I know, I'm behind, and I'm struggling more and more to catch up. With my current stretch of limited internet, I wasn't able to get this done for three weeks after I started it, and I watched a lot of movies during this time. Just the ones I'm reviewing are only a fraction, and even then, I couldn't get around to reviewing everything I wanted to. I had to finally give up on reviewing the documentary, "Dolores" after computer saving issues just lost it too many times and I had to just throw in the towel on that one. It's a good and important movie and you should definitely seek it out.
I'm hoping things will turn around sooner than later, but I'm honestly not certain. I'm gonna keep at it though, I've got some thoughts and blogs on several issues either in the works or on hold for me to get to after I finish, but I gotta get some movie reviews down. So, here we got, the biggest movie review post I've done yet, unintentionally so, but here we go.
WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? (2019) Director: Astra Taylor
The first film I've seen of 2019; I always look forward to these, mainly because I'm usually the last person to get to the modern year in film. In fact, I'm so far behind these days, I'm still trying to catch up to 2017 in my mind anyway. (Nobody seems to have a copy of "Foxtrot" for some reason, and it's really annoying.) This year, the first film is the documentary "What Is Democracy", a democracy that asks the question, about whether or not the Democracy of today truly is, by the people and for the people. as it ever was.
No. The answer is no.
Well, that was a short movie. Let's move on-...
(Fifteen minutes later)
Okay, I'm told, I have to elaborate more. It also asks the question in the title, "What Is Democracy?" Well, let me get a dictionary and let's see...- There's several definitions, let's go with the top-, (Sigh) alright, let's not.
The reason I'm avoiding so much is that this film made me depressed. Not that I didn’t know everything in it already, but “What to Democracy?”, where to begin? Well, it does get that answer right of "Where is Democracy", Ancient Greece. Plato’s “The New Republic” and the early beginnings of the first democracy. Those piece were actually quite fascinating. The movie's semi-conceit is basically that it's tracing the history and origins of Democracy from it's original idea, the first uses in practice and now to it's modern-day usage, or perversion thereof.
I- I think who knows even the simplest history of the concept of democracy thinks it's being adequately practiced as intended, even in the modern Republic form that most international government, including the United States has in some way adapted. Now, the movie itself, is not bad. I'm even recommending it. It's a mosaic, it doesn't answer this simple-yet-complex question, it tries to comprehend the many different ways and meaning the word's had over the centuries, and there have been. The best parts of the movie are when she's showing us that. The ruins of Greece, some amazing murals and painting in Italy that show how all the people were depicted by the ruling class, etc. etc. The movie also dives into modern issues throughout the world and there's some more-than-qualified talking head scholars who I would probably more enjoy listening to in a classroom setting. I like the contrast to being in Greece, showing the cradle of Civilization and the actual pillars of that civilization was governed, and then to just across the Sea, the Syrian refugee crises coming aboard.
Basically, in some variant, you can explain Democracy as this old joke from Aristophanes's "The Assemblywoman", where one character talks about making everything free to all, the land, the property, no rich, no poor, just a Utopian paradise, and another character asks who will till the soil, and the guy then goes, "The Slaves." That's basically Democracy to one degree or another. Not necessarily the slave part, but definitely the world of the haves separated by the have nots. Exploring that is interesting, but I think a movie is just too small, at least the way Director Astra Taylor is doing it. I'm actually a bit surprised how well-acclaimed the film is; I mean I didn't hate it outright, but I can see people really being dismissive of this by concept alone. I'm actually kinda annoyed at it myself. It's an interesting question to ponder and look up, but I think she lost the narrative a bit. I don't need the history lesson on why it's screwed up, we need to know what's wrong with it and how to change it to make it better. Yeah, there's plenty of docs that give us that too, but I think I prefer that.
GREEN BOOK (2018) Director: Peter Farrelly
Well, here it is, the film I’ve been hearing about. By far, the most controversial Oscar-winning Best Picture since “Crash”, which coincidentally was also a movie about racism. (Shrugs) I think “Crash” was and still is a pretty great film. It’s not perfect, and I wouldn’t have voted for it either, but it was in my Top Ten that year. I’ve seen it lately it still holds up, and I don’t really get most of the criticisms of it. The big one I hear is how it’s so liberal and heavy-handed with the messaging, but I don’t see that. In fact, if anything, I think it’s incredibly nuanced. It’s a little simplistic admittedly, because it’s writer/director Paul Haggis, was trying to do understand racism, which is a folly’s journey, ‘cause racism isn’t logical, but I can’t claim that that’s the worst idea either, and I can't fault someone for trying to understand it. If anything that movie shows that racism is a complex issue and that it effects all of us in some way, whether we want it to or not, and that is a universal truth. So, it’s a bunch of examples of that; how else would one show it? At least they’re good examples. (Also, Haggis was still in the throws of Scientology at the time, and there’s that undercurrent of naivete that’s involved that film as well, that actually is a much bigger detriment to the film's quality to be honest, 'cause that's where I think it ultimately does fail and that really should be discussed and analyzed more with “Crash,” but that’s for another day.)
The majority of the backlash to “Crash” came after it won, “Green Book”’s backlash was long before it even got the nomination. In fact, I don’t think I predicted it to get nominated it was so severe, much more so than the previous year’s troubling film with pro-racism undertones, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, and like that movie, the one thing everybody agreed on were the greatness of the performances even if the messages were conflicted at best. “Green Book” does have it’s strong defenders though. One of my FB friends is Sasha Stone of AwardsDaily.com and she’s very much in the movie’s camp. I respect her opinion quite a bit, as well as a few others who also like the movie.
Look, I’m just gonna be blunt here, this was a tough movie to sit through. I really struggled with this one. Part of it, is expected, the movie is about race relations in the South in the early Sixties, I mean, yeah, this shit happened and probably quite a bit, and frankly it’s relevant now, as every other week there’s some new racist idiot video taping themselves trying to kid an African-American family out of a pool, or whatever the hell racist assholes are doing now. Also, I don’t necessarily think the premise of the movie is bad at all. There’s some who complain that the movie isn’t from Don Shirley’s (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali) perspective and that’s a valid point, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s in turn a negative that the movie’s instead from Tony “Lip” Vallelonga’s (Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen) point of view either. I mean, is it bad that a white man’s perspective changes, especially if it’s a bad perspective to begin with and needs to be changed?
I mean, I wish it was more earned and I can feel my eyes rolling as I write this. Still, the problem isn’t the subject matter, it’s a good story that I can see an argument for being told. The problem isn’t that the perspective isn’t the greatest it could’ve been; it could still be a good movie that’s both, from the perspective of a white protagonist while still being about the troubles, trials and tribulations of racism in the South, look at “In the Heat of the Night”, that movie pulls it off incredibly well and I don’t hear too many people complaining about that film these day. Does, “Green Book” pull that off?
No, it doesn’t. It-, it just doesn’t. There are clearly many issues with the execution but, I’m putting Peter Farrelly’s feet to the fire fist. Farrelly is a comedy director, him and his brother, and they’re good ones. They haven’t been lately admittedly, but if anybody’s ever watched a PBA event recently, you’ll know that “Kingpin” is the most influential sports movie ever made. (Seriously, bowling on TV has just-, what the hell?!) That’s probably their most underrated and greatest work, and of course, “There’s Something About Mary”, is a classic, but I want to think a bit about their other great comedy “Shallow Hal” It's probably much more problematic than I remember, but it actually about a white man over-coming his prejudice, in this case,-, mostly fat and unattractive people. It’s premise, however, involves its main character getting hypnotized into only seeing peoples’ appearance based on the quality of the person they are, so Jack Black sees Gwyneth Paltrow in his love interest instead of the overweight girl who breaks chairs when she sits on them. It’s a funny movie and there’s actually quite a few good layers to it, that said, yeah, he only sees the reality in people, once he’s hypnotized to not see his preconceptions. It works for that genre, although now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember any African-Americans in that movie, or for that matter, most of their movies, like, at all, including “Shallow Hal”. Hell, the aforementioned “Kingpin”, half of that movie, as great as it is, is just making fun of the Amish. He’s got a comedic sensibility, and that’s good for a break in the action, but trying to shift that into a narrative about race relations?
Alright, I’ve been bouncing around it, but the fried chicken scenes just pissed me the hell off. Like, I can see the genesis of the idea and why they might think it was a decent idea, and the timing is right with the rise of KFC as it became a National brand and you know the history of the recipes and how it’s changed from it’s early days,- I know way more about the history of “Kentucky Fried Chicken” than I really should, but I can just see the scene being pitched and Farrelly going to it’s natural conclusion, and I guess it’s funny in that little box, but then, when Dr. Shirley’s an invited dinner guest for a rich white family who’s holding his concert, they then specially make fried chicken for Dr. Shirley ‘cause it’s the only thing they believe African-Americans eat, it just doesn’t play well. The whole thing is a set-up to show how racist it actually is, and it’s a play on how-supposedly- everybody-likes-fried chicken-joke. Well, my mother hates fried chicken, so that’s not true either.
There are some good scenes here of course. I like the scene where they call a lawyer to get them out of jail after an altercation with police. Both of these men are interesting characters and I don’t think that we’re supposed to naturally think that just because Tony Lip had this great road adventure with Don Shirley in the South that suddenly he’s all cured of his own bigoted tendencies, although they do mention at the end that they remained friends until their passings a few years ago and I’ve heard some vary reports that disagree with that description of their relationship.
Still, it reads badly. It’s a culture clash that frankly doesn’t put any culture in the best of lights. I’ve heard that this film’s been compared to another Oscar-winning Best Picture that they have a lot in common with, “Driving Miss Daisy”; I actually watched "Driving Miss Daisy recently, I'm not gonna pretend there's not problematic elements to that film either but that's actually a movie about a complex friendship that builds over decades, and there's still loads of tenuous nuances involved in it. I wouldn't even call it a road trip movie, there's much more going on and while I don't necessarily think that it should've won the Oscar either, I can see why it did; it's not a movie about racism being "ended" because of a friendship, it's a movie about a friendship that grows and evolves in spite of apparent racism and despite some of the clear biases of the characters and the social injustices built into our sociological world. However, to go back to “Crash” for a second, while I think “Crash” is trying to understand a real problem, I don’t get the sense that “Green Book” is trying to learn or understand anything, if anything, it seems a bit smug.
Admittedly, part of that might be the disturbing way that Peter Farrelly put up one finger to the camera at the Oscars after winning the Screenplay Oscar, almost like he knew they were going to win; there’s an arrogance over “Green Book”, that’s undeserved that “Crash” doesn’t have. And to compare it to “Three Billboards…”, as well, that movie was made by a Brit who was playing with motifs and tools from an outdated genre, and that’s why that films insinuations are somewhat more forgivable, even if their implications are really troubling. Farrelly should know better, but this isn’t his natural genre. There’s nothing with going outside that either, Blake Edwards made “Days of Wine and Roses” for Christ’s sake, it’s not impossible for a comedic mind to shift his attention to more serious subjects and make a great movie out of them, but I don’t think he did turn off his comedic mind the way I believe he thinks he did, or if him and the creators of the movie think that’s what they did, then they probably have more problems identifying the real problems with themselves, (And that does seem to be the case as it seems like all the white male filmmakers behind this project have had to back out of this, in some cases, incredibly stupid statements over the recent year) this story and society at large, and I’m not sure how he knew so certainly he was going win more than one Oscar that night but yes, this film’s Oscar definitely deserves the derision that it’s gotten.
It’s not the worst movie of all-time or anything, and I can’t entirely put my finger on it, but this movie feels like it was made in bad faith. Even the parts that are good and show that there is something here…. I mean, it’s got details that are interesting, and I do like the idea of a major African-American performer traveling and performing into the South with a white driver he’s hired as protection, who’s got to travel through the Green Book, the underground travel guide for traveling in the South for African-Americans. I mean, there’s definitely something there, I can think of several details about African-American performers and the travails of traveling they endured and the performances are strong enough, but the executive of the story is not worth it. I was tempted to recommend it even despite all this, but what would I be recommending here, a half-ass version of the same problematic movie that we’ve all seen several better versions of for the last thirty years? Admittedly, I can think of some worst versions as well that did better than they should’ve at the Oscars, but still,....
Also Italian aren’t that damn obsessed with food! And seriously, I hope that was Farrelly's addition as well 'cause, since it was Vallelonga's relative that co-wrote the screenplay, I hope that that wasn't one of the only major details you remember about him.
The first thing I should note about “Roma” is that, despite the movie being famously distributed by Netflix ‘causing a lot of disruption among the Oscar purists crowd, “Roma” is the quintessential example of a movie that should absolutely be seen on a big screen in a movie theater if possible. I do not fault Director Alfonso Cuaron for choosing the alternate primary method of streaming though, he claims that foreign language films aren’t often given proper distribution in America and he believed that the film would reach a greater audience streaming on Netflix after an appropriate Academy-eligible theatrical run. Frankly he’s right about that, the fact that the Academy recently decided to change its Foreign Language Feature category into an International Feature category, essentially is a concession to that fact, even though no other rules or distinctions regarding that category are being changed or altered, but whatever you think about streaming’s role or place, or whether it should have been eligible within the guidelines of the Academy, “Roma” is theatrical motion picture. It was not made to be enjoyed on either the literal small screen of television, or the potentially smallest of screen that we may watch streaming material on. (Or in my case, the corner of those screens as I’m usually doing ten other things at the same time…) It needs the big screen for he big emotions that it expresses.
Now, does that make it this great masterpiece of a film? Umm, well, I don’t really know to be honest. Not yet anyway. To be honest, I feel somewhat torn on this one. The movie is personal for Cuaron, it’s based on memories of his own childhood. The title “Roma”, refers to the area of Mexico City where he grew up and the movie is taking place, although I could see how Fellini might be considered an influence here. The movie, very thoughtfully is not through a children’s perspective though; it’s instead through the eyes of a familial maid, Clio (Oscar-nominee Yalitza Aparicio, in her first role.) is a young, Mixteco Mesoamerican, which is the indigenous peoples of Mexico, in her case she's her group is from Oaxaca and while she speaks Spanish fluently, she slips into her native Mixtec dialect as well. She watches over a family of three kids, a constantly-shitting dog, and a matriarch, Sofia (Oscar-nominee Marina de Tavira). The film takes during a tumultuous era in recent Mexican history, the early ‘70s. The movie at various off-kilter times does a good job of showing some of the tumultuousness during that time, most notably the student demonstrations that often became violent. He could’ve made a movie being at the center of the action, but that’s never actually been his modus operandi anyway. His last Spanish-language Mexican film, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” often drifted into side stories and narratives about its characters. He does similar but different things here, where we mostly get this one main story about this family and these characters, but there’s a larger world going on, and the long takes, and often from a master view that often move and drift in away, it helps us to consider the others people in the film, and what possibilities of there lives are. Only one story in “The Naked City” as they used to say.
I don’t think that movie an influence of “Roma” though, but I can think of some that are. There’s a lot of Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” here, especially how with Sofi’s struggle with her husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), who’s absent because of a supposed “business trip” to Quebec. We get pieces and snatches of info from the corner of the screen, through Clio’s fragmented view. While Sofi struggles with trying to keep a family together, Clio ends up pregnant after losing her virginity to Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) a young angry martial artist who has no interest in her or having a kid. We’re introduced to him swimming around a shower rod like it’s a weapon, naked. She ends up seeing him apart of the Corpus Christi attack on student demonstrators, he’s one of the ones, not just attacking the students, but running after a particular one but chasing him into a building along with other angry young men.
It’s after this incident that the family, including Clio heads off to the Beach for a weekend at Sofi’s insistent and there’s one of Cuaron’s just mind-bogglingly amazing long takes where everything comes crashing onto Clio and the family at once, emotionally and literally. I don’t know how he got this tracking shot but it is amazing that he did. (And I mean him, while Emmanuel Lubezki did prepare some shots, Cuaron served as the film’s cinematographer as well as director in this case, winning Oscars for both, the first to do that for the same movie.) The movie begins with water crashing onto the land, as buckets are poured on the floor that Clio is mopping and he returns to that motif here. Cleansing, rebirth, life. Life being lived on the ground, as well as in the air; airplanes perpetuate the movie as well. There’s a mention at the end of the movie, after it’s finally announced to the family that the father is leaving them for his mistress that they can’t go to Disneyland, but that they might be able to go Clio’s home village for a vacation soon, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of another scene from “Y Tu Mama Tambien” where, on the road trip, they pass a village that one of the characters reflects is where an old beloved nanny of his said she was from. It’s kinda perverse when you think about it however, going to your Maid’s hometown for vacation like it’s just a destination, especially from a more upper class and lighter-skinner, probably European-blooded family, but the planes also could represent them trying to find a way out of their circumstances as well, as better as it may be comparatively. Cuaron is a Mexican man who found his way out to America.
Still though, the movie that I actually was reminded most by with “Roma” was actually Tarkovsky’s “The Mirror”, another autobiographical film about the memory of its director. I’m in the minority on that film, considering it one of Tarkovsky’s weaker films, but my criticism of that movie is that it’s so personal that only Tarkovsky himself, can actually relate to it. I don’t get that sense with “Roma”. It’s definitely personal, but it’s smart that it's not from his point of view. It could’ve been, he wouldn’t have been the first director to tell his story as a young man observing the adult world with confusion and wonder, and Cuaron’s made children’s films before, and good ones at that. Instead, he pays tribute to his beloved maid, one that’s still alive and he considers and is treated as being apart of his family. Perhaps it’s that he’s all-too consciously aware that his background isn’t one of struggle that allows him to empathize, or maybe he just wanted to tell her story. Her story, as it relates to his story, his family’s story, and all of Mexico’s story? Or perhaps just the neighborhood of Mexico City that he grew up in. Cuaron’s very best films always have a strong sense of his characters being small parts of a greater wider world out there. Look at “Children of Men”, a sci-fi film about a dying species struggling to save it’s maybe one last potential shot at survival, or “Gravity”, about an astronaut drifting in Outer Fucking Space, trying to just somehow survive, make it back to her home of Earth.
Or to go to back to “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, those two teenage kids and one older adult, and well follow their sexual and other escapades in the foreground, while the movies sprinkles the images and stories of an everchanging Mexico all around them. This innate ability of Cuaron’s to paint a larger world, around his smaller detail is what makes him one of the best storytellers in Hollywood right now. In Hollywood, and in Mexico City.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018) Director: Bryan Singer
VICE (2018) Director: Adam McKay
I think it’s indubitably fair to call Dick Cheney (Oscar nominee Christian Bale) the worst Vice President of all-time. There’s very little defense of him; many of my fellow Democrats actually put the majority of the George W. Bush’s Presidency failures directly onto Cheney, moreso than Bush who they suspect strongly was simply just too dumb to know better. I have a little difficulty letting Bush off the hook that easily, that feels like letting one war criminal off in order to convict another to me, but that said, I can’t say that perspective wasn’t earned. The last time I remember hearing anything from Cheney of significance was around 2009 or ’10, when him and Obama were giving dueling speeches about the future of the country on the same day; I don’t remember all the details but I remember once Obama blew his audience away and everybody forgot and dismissed Cheney’s laughable attempt at becoming a new face of the GOP that was fumbling around looking for its new leader, He was clearly out of his league, and combating Obama at his specialty of giving a speech was just mind-blowingly stupid, but more than that; Cheney is clearly best at operating, not out on stage and in public, but in those dark shadows behind the throne of power that he thrives in.
Chaney was a Yale dropout who had gone back home to Wyoming, where he stumbled around drinking and fighting between jobs for awhile before with his wife Lynne’s (Oscar-nominee Amy Adams) encouragement eventually fumbled his way into a DC internship for Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), the then-Chief of Staff for Nixon. You know, I never thought much about this, but it is kinda irksome in the ways that the GOP seems to always be diving back into it’s old pool so much, Presidency after Presidency, the same people; I’m not gonna say Democrats don’t do that, but it does feel like they’re more interested in finding voices outside their own circle as often as possible. BTW, I can’t help but think about how perfect Carell nails Rumsfeld, all I could think while watching his performance is that he must’ve studied Errol Morris’s “The Unknown Known”, quite thoroughly.
Anyway, eventually, he manages to become Chief of Staff for Ford, the youngest to ever hold that position, and after his defeat in ’76, Cheney would become Wyoming’s Congressional Representative throughout the eighties, along with the help of his wife, who often campaigned for him after he’d get a period heart attack. She is portrayed as very Lady MacBeth-like here and she became fairly powerful in her own right during this time. The movie plays a little fakeout with us in the middle after Cheney left the Congress shortly after his daughter Mary (Alison Pill) came out to them, even going to a fake closing credits sequence before inevitably usurping into literal Shakespearean parody when George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) calls and insists to be Vice President. It’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie, which I want to point out because, this really isn’t a funny comedy. At least not now; it be funnier in the future when most of this isn’t still raw. It’s definitely a comedy; it has to be. We must laugh, or at least slant towards laughing so that we may not cry or break a hand or two while the nearest brick wall picks a fight with you. Director Adam McKay knows that comedy techniques are often the best use to explain the abstract as well as the best framing device to portray the indefensible; he used this effect masterfully in his masterpiece “The Big Short”, to explain the housing bubble and the loan default crises that lead to the The Great Recession in 2018.
What he details here is a perversion of the Constitution known as the Unitary Executive Theory that purportedly claims that the Presidency, and the Branch has total executive authority to do whatever it wants. Cheney would use this to essentially place his hands and mitts all over Washington, since the Article is actually even more vague about the powers of the Vice President. Like how, despite being President of the Senate, Cheney kept an office in the House of Representatives while V.P., as well as several others in the Pentagon and other locals. How he got the first look and override of the Daily Threat Matrix reports. He’s the one who leaked Valerie Plame’s name when her husband called out their bullshit. The no-Bid Halliburton contracts, which he was CEO of at the time, the secret meetings with the Oil Executives to divvy up Iraq before 9/11 ever happened. It’s always been the joke and theory that he was the shadow president under Bush, but it’s the facts that highly point to it. There’s a funny post-script of the movie where there’s complaints about the movie having a liberal bias by a focus group, one that ultimately cares more about the next “Fast and Furious” movie than John Yoo’s (Paul Yoo) torture memos, that are still apart of the Justice Department today. Or that Liz Cheney (Lisa Rabe) won her father’s old Congressional seat by coming out against gay marriage, which did inevitably split Mary from the family for the time being.
Yes the movie has a liberal bias, but yes, it’s also based heavily on facts and events that are documented, that we know he did. The movie doesn’t claim to be 100% knowledgeable; it’s mysterious narrator Kurt (Jesse Plemons) explains several times how it’s impossible to know exactly what Cheney thought and when, and even the movie itself prefaces this with the best pre-credits notation scene since “(500) Days of Summer”. But it’s true. Perhaps these have always been Cheney’s beliefs, perhaps something shaped his view of the world and formed into this power-hungry monster? Maybe he just likes the power? We’ll probably never know what makes him tick and that’s the most annoying part of Cheney. He was everywhere and nowhere; coveting and bullying his way into power and rule that frankly, we can’t point to specifically in his past. Perhaps it’s just that he’s from Wyoming; I don’t know, and the movie doesn’t either.
I thought back a lot to all these times when Bush was in power; it’s timeline of war crimes and absurdity forever spotted into my head. Colin Powell’s (Tyler Perry) UN address, Richard Clarke, (Kevin J. Flood) getting railroaded after not defending the White House in some of there assessments. The movie actually lets Condoleeza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton) more off-the-hook than I would’ve imagined, in fact, anybody with brown skin or an ethnic name seems to be the ones the most out of the loop of everything else going on.
Christian Bale’s great in this movie, the whole cast is quite strong. McKay’s directing and writing is quite good here as well. If it fails compared to “The Big Short”, it’s only in the fact that that was such a high standard, as well the genre of storytelling being different. “The Big Short” was more of a mystery, so discovery and understanding were more critical with that film. “Vice” is mostly a biopic, so the appeal isn't as strong, despite the fact that in both films, we know what's going to happen, we're not being as pushed forward; that’s also unfortunately why the laughs are technically few and far between. McKay has always been a talented filmmaker and he’s figured something out with using this comedic-influenced approach to retell those confusing points of recent history that we often either forget too easily in this modern world of dis-and-misinformation, or that we simply can barely follow and understand, again, through the confusing that the modern media lens easily lends itself to.
I also thought about a lot of movies that have documented the era and Washington at that time. Most of them documentaries, Oliver Stone’s “W.” tripped into my mind once or twice, but the movie that I keep going back to oddly enough was “Zero Dark Thirty”. All the torture that he insisted on executing, the thing I love about “Zero…”, that made it clear to me just how incompetent this administration was was how the torture was used not as a means to get information, but supposedly as a deterrent. Which of course it wasn’t, but even worst than that, they weren’t properly investigating any of the information that they actually did receive. It becomes more and more clear how little capturing Osama Bin Laden meant to these people.
The movie ends with Cheney talking directly to us, in that light of that famous Martha Radditz (Amy Moorman) interview where it was utterly clear that he simply didn’t give much of a damn what the public thought of him. At least Bush sometimes seems reflective on his war crimes if not guilty or even conflicted, but Cheney, simply never gave a fuck. This is a guy who apparently wielded enough power that he could shoot somebody and have the victim apologize to him.
So, yeah, if Cheney don’t give much of a damn what we think about him, then I frankly don’t care much about whether the film has a liberal bias or not.
A STAR IS BORN (2018) Director: Bradley Cooper
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo
“There’s-, there’s a lot about “The Lord of the Rings”, that I hate about it-, I’ve explained many of my reasons over the years about it, and I hate to continually go back to this example, but we screwed up as a society and it’s now so ingrained in the fantasy genre that I can never seem to fully get away from it, but there’s so much I hate about it that I never pinned down something else I hate about it ‘til now. Well, the rings. Seriously, they’re kinda-, look, I’m not anti-MaGuffin plot, but they’re not a good MaGuffin. It actually makes very little sense if you think about it for more than five minutes, that something can exist that’s so powerful that either it must be destroyed or it will destroy the world. It’s actually kinda perverse in that story in particular, Tolkien was trying to create and emulate a mythology, but the majority of it is based around the idea that the underlings of the world are at the behest or creation of the Gods, essentially, everybody’s fighting in “LOTR”, to become a God by claiming one of those rings, or to prevent from becoming gods themselves. Now, granted everybody fails at this at the end, partially because for some stupid reason this power of these rings is too powerful for people to have, which, honestly is another sticking point; I’ve never really bought into the equation of Great Power = Great Responsibility thing either, but yeah, like the middle of all these warring sides all clamoring for power, you don’t really need the rings for that to be a conflict, and instead that turns what could be a really powerful story ABOUT how the struggle and fight for power between those at the top hurts and involves everyone else, which is more in tune to many mythological stories, and makes it, well, a second-rate treasure hunt. I like treasure hunts, but not like that.
Anyway, my point being is that “LOTR” did this better, and the Infinity Gauntlet is an even stupider Maguffin. I mean, I get the idea of Thanos (Josh Brolin), the insane sociopathic powerful madman going from planet to planet and galaxy to galaxy and causing massive destruction and genocide all over the universe under some misguided belief that destroying the universe is the only way to preserve, protect and ultimately control it, but he can’t just be really powerful, everything has to be surrounding these stones? I know this has been set up for like a gazillion more movies than necessary, but that doesn’t make it any less dumb. You’re telling me a universe with space pirates, gods and a smorgasbord of superhuman beings and an insane amount of technology can’t just put up a fight against this menace and have that be compelling, without also having to add this metaphysical bullshit gauntlet crap? I’m fairly certain one of the early seasons of “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” did this better. I can’t remember if it was the Lord Zed or the Machine Empire season, but yeah, one of them had already taken over like seven or eight solar systems and the Milky way before the ruled the entire universe and now the Rangers were the only ones getting in the way? Where’s those teenagers with attitude when we fucking need them?
Alright, so, Thanos, he’s been the big guy behind a lot of the destruction and antics through many of these movies in the past. He seems to already be a pretty powerful godlike figure, but now he wants to gather these stones into this gauntlet made by a dwarf Eitri (Peter Dinklage) who apparently also made Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) hammer. He’s collected a couple of these things already, and it’s six stones to rule them all, so he’s got four to go. He’s got an alien army to attack Earth, he’s taken out Asgard entirely, his home planet, Titan, which I think is actually a moon, but whatever,- anyway, he believes that, overpopulation is humanity’s biggest problem and he wants to end it.
I’m gonna say he’s not entirely off-base with this; Thanos, Is a representation of,- let’s try to find a way without offending some cultures, well, the purge. The periodical purge that humans have gone through of peoples and civilizations over the millenniums of existence. This doesn’t have to necessarily representative of (INSERT GENOCIDIAL DICTATOR HERE) either, this could be diseases like the Plague or the Spanish Flu that wiped out as many people as wars did, or it could represent collateral damage from environmental changes that wipe out societies. His home planet it’s noted by Quill (Chris Pratt) is eight inches off it’s axis, that’s the kind of change that would be destructive to all of Earth if that were to happen, all with a snap of a finger. This is a good villain for the Avengers to combat, even if this whole thing basically amounts to his stupid goddamn glove.
The real problem is, the Avengers themselves. The more this movie goes on, the more it feels like that I’ve just spent the last decade or so being forced to pay attention and follow these characters has been nothing but a waste of time and energy, only for them to be sacrificed, literally, for plot and story convenience. Hey, remember Scarlet Witch and Vision (Elisabeth Olson and Paul Bettany) from that last “Avengers” movie that sucked? Well, they’re back, and suddenly important. Or, all that great majesty that came with Wakanda and our introduction into Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)’s whole secret world an universe, that’s a technological Atlantis that remained hidden in Africa for centuries, undisturbed from the progresses of Western influence, including any/all past/current African conflicts as well as all the excavation of the continent of its resources, including several mass enslavements and forced removal and deportation of it’s peoples? Well, it’s just a battlefield for this movie, forget all that depth and importance that that movie put into this universe.
Or how about, that one whole movie “Captain America: Civil War”, where all the superheroes fought each other and broke up into sections over stupid laws they were way too powerful to ever actually let them be enforced if they wanted to that lead to the permanent break-up and separation of the Avengers group, that’s all, even more completely pointless and relentlessly useless than I originally thought it was now? (Sigh) Why was I getting yelled at for putting that movie on my Dishonorable Mentions Worst List again? Not even on my Worst List, but the Special Mentions Worst List, I was getting yelled at for it, seriously. Now, I’m really wishing I had put it on that list. (Seriously, real talk, if they were all just gonna eventually get back together when a threat that required all of them were to come at the first beckon call, then why the fuck does that movie exist in this franchise to begin with? Here, get rid of the stupid law and the infighting, just say, “We’re greater than humans, superheroes known collectively as “The Avengers”. Sometimes, we’re together against a major foe, sometimes we’re separate from each other.” BANG! I just eliminated one stupid film from this franchise in two sentences or less, minimum, and saved about a billion dollars in production and advertising. If I could get everybody’s three hours of their life back for that damn thing, I’d be really happy. ([Probably more than that if I think about it.]) Hey, can’t they do that, ‘cause doesn’t Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) have some kind of time travel power or something?
I have to ask also, what is the point of creating any of these fantastical, amazing worlds if the only ultimate endgame requires them to either be destroyed or saved from destruction? Can’t there be something in between these extremes that’s just as compelling, or even moreso? I’m sure a lot of people came out of this movie feeling like they were kicked in the gut, I did too, but it wasn’t a satisfying climatic kick that crushes your guts, blows your mind, and breaks your heart; it’s the kind of kick that happens to you, when you’re already beyond the point of physical exhaustion, and suddenly, everything that you’ve spent your time working on that made you so excited, suddenly completely falls and shatters, like a long, elaborate computer project that you’ve been working on all day and night, and suddenly, your computer crashes and it’s not saved; all that wasted time and energy that you spent pouring out your sole, for what?
Look, I really don’t want to seem as bitter as I am, but these movies, this franchise, they’ve just annoyed the hell out of me over the years. Even when I like them, I just find myself pissed that this thing keeps on going. I feel I’m being forced to suffer through all the worst parts of superhero comics. Crossing over every universe so it takes place in one world, superheroes battling superheroes instead of the bad guys like they should be, having to sit through origin stories of every character in this damn thing, most of those movies that I usually like, only for them to be meaningless because they get impacted by these grand event comics that has nothing to do with the story they’re telling but this big story needs to supposedly involve every superhero from every universe, so everything’s put on hold, or outright ended…! (Annoyed grunt)
To go back to “Power Rangers” for a second, and I don’t know why I’m suddenly interested in them so much, I was never the biggest fan of them either, but you know why they work as a multi-superhero universe? Cause they were always a team. There was a bad guy, so those five or six, or however many in one year there were during their whatever seasons, they were teamed up to destroy evil together. Okay, it doesn’t work perfectly there, cause of a bunch of dumb crossover with teams and whatnot, but still, for the most part, the idea is that in this universe where superheroes exist, the villains are too great for there only to be one superhuman to protect them, hell it’s a major aspect that’s built into the mythology of both the American and Japanese versions of that series. It’s not a requirement for a multi-superhero universe to do this, “Watchmen”, somehow gets away with it by creating it’s own unique full universe to explain it, and I’m not the biggest “X-Men” fan, but at least symbolically within the text there’s reasons for mutants to co-exist in the same world as men. But in “Avengers”? Superheroes all seem to co-exist in this world because somebody wants this world that’s just full of superheroes, and that’s never sat well with me. It’s sorta the same questioning I have with “Game of Thrones” as to why, if the history of the narrative is pretty heavily influenced by the actual Wars of the Roses, then why create a fantasy world to tell this story at all, but even with that example, I get why you would do that, especially if you’re creating a world from scratch. The avengers are established characters in their own worlds most of them, on their own heroic adventures and journeys and going through their own experiences, they’re not brought together because there’s a powerful outside force out to destroy the world, there’s always a powerful outside force that’s out to destroy the world. Just because it’s fun to imagine a bunch of our favorite superheroes and characters coming together, doesn’t mean it’s good narratively. I mean, it certainly could be if done well, but these aren’t done for the purpose of telling a great story, they’re done because, the people, the fans want to see it.
Look, it’s not simply that I’m not a superhero guy and I instead want Hollywood to start making movies of franchises, characters and plots that I’m more drawn to, I don’t; it’s that I know for a fact that just because you think you want something doesn’t mean that once you actually get it, that it’s gonna be good, or for that matter, exactly what you wanted or how you wanted it. If you’re just kowtowing to what the majority wants, you’re still not going into their head and make everybody happy; sometimes what we think we want is not actually what we want and sometimes we don’t know what we want until we see it. I once a told a friend something to the effect of, “You think anybody was clamoring for a story about a millionaire who goes on vigilante streaks at night dressed like a bird until they actually saw it?” No, of course not, of course they didn’t. It was somebody's artistic vision that was people saw and liked after it was in someone’s mind. Comic books are a real example of this effect, one of the best ones in fact but this is what happens when they’re not treated as such and are instead treated as our own creations to do with and manipulate as we please.
“The Avengers” movies, all the ones with the title “Avengers” in the beginning of them, they’ve all been terrible. This one’s the worst yet; (Ugh, and I know I have another to go at some point.) it’s the one I’ve been fearing would happen. It’s absolute proof to me that the notion that combining these worlds and universes together into an epic storytelling experience, doesn’t make it greater, grander or for that matter, even any good at all. If anything, this might be the worst of the bunch because of how it makes everything else before it worst, by showing how manipulative and little they actually were, pawns on a chessboard, easily taken out at will. This was planned for years, why I was made to care? Thanos might be destroying in order to create and ultimately rebuild (Granted, that’s giving him credit to think that far ahead) but the MCU I now recognize is just a bunch of creating, in or to destroy. I don’t know which is worst, but to me, it’s bad either way. Perhaps if I had a stronger connection to these movies, I’d be more emotionally elegiac, but I don’t think so.
Comic books, for all intensive purposes, are fairly cheap to make, and these stories work better in that media because of it, because many people who do love comics can afford to dive into these several pieces of media that they can read relatively quickly, and it doesn’t require a giant, grand effort to write, draw, color, and publish them, especially if they’re coordinated under an all-around vision at a publishing house like Marvel, and those creators are given as much time as possible to create as complex a narrative and universe as they possibly can, literally, anything they can possibly draw with pencil and paper, as much of as little as they need, but these are movies. They take longer to make, and even if these were all made as cheaply as possibly, which they’re not, they’d still be more of an undertaking than any comic books or scenes that they’re depicting. It can take just a handful or two of people to create a comic book, it take thousands of people to make these movies, each one of them and the time, money and man hours involved in such an undertaking is overwhelming, and that’s wasted with a film like this, that makes this film feel like a waste of time but makes all those other movies and all that was put into them feel like a bigger waste of literal time and energy that’s been building up for years, then yeah, in that case, I’m not just pissed at them based on concept or their overreach into Hollywood and pop culture, I’m just pissed off at them now, period….
And there’s still a movies to go
And superhero movies to go before I sleep
And superhero movies to go before I sleep….
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) Director: Ron Howard
READY PLAYER ONE (2018) Director: Steven Spielberg
(17 MINUTES IN)
STOP! I need to stop!
(DVD paused. Sigh)
Let me see if I got this right. In the future, of this world, of “Ready Player One”, every amount of world progress has stopped, because of a video game. A video game that encapsulates, the ability for anybody to do/use or create anything but since it’s creator has died, he’s gone all Willy Wonka meet LOTR and hidden keys into this virtual reality world that everybody exists in where everybody studies and analyzes pop culture to find the three keys because that’s apparently what the creator was obsessed with, and the possessor of those keys would then be able to control this world filled with pop culture references. This is a world of gamers who are obsessed with pop culture nerdom because their creator was obsessed with popculture, so now everybody’s playing a video game in order for somebody to become the leader of the video game world obsessed with pop culture nerddom.
(Long thinking pause, deep sigh)
Okay, this is the worst movie of the year. I’m not kidding; I’m deadly serious. I don’t care that I got a couple hours left in the film, I don’t care who made it. I’ll watch it all the way through, ‘cause of who made, and so far, I think that-, maybe I’ll like this movie, a lot, ‘cause it’s goddamn Steven Spielberg and he can make anything tolerable or even good. (Except “War Horse”, I-, I don’t know what went wrong there. Oh, and “1941”, but that was him trying to make a comedy, we can let that slide.) But, I don’t care, I’m not accepting this celebration of geekdom by geekdom in a world worshipping geekdom in a world worshipping geekdom just to be the ruler of geekdom by being the greatest geek/nerd in the world of them. Fuck this movie, fuck this concept, fuck the book that it’s based on. Even “Ender’s Game” had a real reason to be obsessed with finding the greatest gamers, it was a war strategy, that was used to defeat a villain after all other typical military and combat options were proven inferior, this is just justifying one’s fetishes as a lifestyle and creating a fantasy world in which to live it out, unless this thing has a really good dark twist ending where everybody gets destroyed by their own selfishness, fuck this movie, and even then, just putting this concept out there instead of keeping it in the playroom next to the useless action figures and the much better and more fun to play with plush animals, is just wrong. It’s the bottom of the barrel for this era of nostalgia worship, and it needs to stop! NOW!
(Deep breath, sigh)
Okay, I’ve said my peace, Master Storyteller Spielberg, continue telling this story, and I will try, I repeat “try”, to give an honest thoughtful analysis of the execution of the content.
(2 ½ HOURS LATER)
(Long deep growl)
Okay, obviously, my hopes that I would enjoy this in spite of my disgust with the concept, were not fulfilled. I’m trying to get an understanding of why I’m supposed to appreciate this, but all I really see is some bane message about how good and important it is to be a fan, ‘cause fans,- I don’t know, they-eh,- fans like things others create? I feel like I’ve just been told to play a video game forever and ever so I can get to the end, only for the reveal at the end to be, “Stay in the real world; ‘cause it’s real!” Like, exactly like that episode of “South Park” that parodied “Rock Band”, only they found the humor in it, and this movie doesn’t get how pathetic this actually is.
You know what it is, it’s the fact that indeed, everybody is apart of the OASIS, the virtual world in this universe that everyone’s lives revolve around. Maybe symbolically it works, but literally it doesn’t, and I know this ‘cause there is a good version of this story.
I don’t know what the comparisons to “Ready Player One” have been, I thought it was pretty much “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to begin with, and yeah there’s a lot of that in there, including all the goddamn Easter Eggs, including some literal ones. I’ve seen “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, mentioned a bit, you know, that was a fantasy story in a fantasy world, a world where cartoon characters existed alongside humans and that also include an evil villain mastermind who wants to destroy their world in order to benefit in his, in this case, the character’s name is Sorrentino (Ben Mendehlson), but the real comparison to show just how awful this truly is, is Gary Ross’s “Pleasantville”. That movie basically has the same plot, characters enter a fictional made up world, only to eventually discover that they instead of living in this fantasy they have to instead go and make do and live and deal with the real world and the real circumstances of it. It also does it, by stripping away the fantasy world that they’re in and realize that the fantasy itself was not what it seemed to be. As far as I can tell, the OASIS, is what it is, a utopian OASIS that exists, outside the world as we know it that people would rather spend their literal lives in, and such a world is dangerous no matter what it entails. Which is why somebody like Sorrentino would be willing to take advantage of it.
Anyway, our main hero is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an orphaned young adult who lives in what are called, the Stacks of Columbus, OH, the layers of old shipping crates and mobile homes, the Hoovervilles under which the centerpiece of the OASIS world is, along where IOI has built up an army of anonymous gamers known as Sixers (Which, as a Philadelphia 76ers fan, is really annoying, I’m used to cheering for my Sixers!) are searching for three Easter Eggs that the game’s original creator, a Mr. James Holliday (Mark Rylance) had put these eggs in the game before his passing a few years ago. Along with several other gamers who could win control of the OASIS if they find the three keys. He along with other racers like Aach (Lena Waithe) a graphic designer of objects that can’t be bought or sold in the stores with coins in this world and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) a rebel leader who had a personal vendetta against Sorrentino and who like Wade had chosen not to “Clan Up” together as many gamers had in search for the missing Keys. It’d been years and the only clue anybody had to the location of one key was an underground race that was impossible to win that Wade, known as Parzival in the OASIS would ride everyday hoping to find a way to finish it and achieve the first keys, and of course, once he figures out the secret to the race, along with a helpful search through Holliday’s archives, ‘cause Holliday kept track of everything in his entire life including every film he ever watched and when. (Loser! Nobody has to keep track of when they watched something, you just have make a list of every film you’ve ever watched, trying to keep of when you watched is just stupid.)
It’s a pretty traditional narrative form. Sorrentino wants to capture them and find the keys for himself, he goes after the team in both the OASIS and the real world,- unfortunately he doesn’t quite get pop culture so he’s at a disadvantage. Also, he’s worst than Sony at keeping passwords in especially secret places, mostly though, it’s the pop culture thing that pisses me off. Like, fine, he’s an executive tool who only wants technology to advertise and control others, at least let him be big into Monopoly? Something, nobody’s truly that maniacal, even Trump has hobbies and interest, stupid ones but still…, and no, Kegels does not count. I’m saying that nobody’s that disconnected from the world, certainly not in this world. Frankly, I lost it when they cut to the man in his earpiece explaining to him that Ridgemont High wasn’t in a John Hughes movie.
BTW, with all these goddamn people in the OASIS, when the hell do they have all the time to listen to all the eighties music or watch all these movies and TV shows and such, or watch Art3Mis’s Twitch tutorials or whatever BS? Unlike Sorrentino, or anybody it seems, I had to study and learn all this shit, I'm still learning a lot of it, not because I have great affection for all these pop culture things, but because I strongly believe that I should know them, especially since this is my field of work and study, but I also think it's just important to learn about things including and especially what's popular in the world. I mean, how did Holliday find all the goddamn time to get off his ass and create all this shit, and still manage to have an 11th favorite horror movie, that apparently, people like Wade are supposed to know about and study up on?!
Who the hell has an 11th Favorite Horror Movie?! (I’m gonna get a phone call from some of my horror friends for that one, but seriously, I don’t have an eleventh favorite horror movie!)
I’ll give it this, the film is made well. The production design and special effects are amazing. It’s cinematography is spectacular. It’s the high quality I expect from Spielberg. But I can’t get over the story, and all the implications it has, all the behaviors it celebrates, and all the mixed messages it has about nostalgia and pop culture as being the be all and end all. I can admire the craft, but I can’t accept what the product represents.
ISLE OF DOGS (2018) Director: Wes Anderson
I've always suspected that a secret influence of Wes Anderson's work is classic children's lit. Literature in general plays a major role in many of his best films, but there's such a wonderful freeing sensability to his best films that I often feel like he probably has more inspiration from say Roald Dahl or Laura Lee Hope or Gertrude Chandler Warner. They're making a new Nancy Drew movie, and I'm surprised his name never popped up as a director choice for that; he would be such a perfect choice. "Isle of Dogs" clearly has some darker influences, but I could easily see this be a book on the same shelf that I would've found "The Chocolate War" or one of my personal favorites of that age, "The Girl Who Owned a City". (Although, that one's a little too dark for me to want to see a Wes Anderson version of it.)
The movie takes place in a futuristic Japan where the evil dog-hating authoritarian mayor Kenji Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura, one of the film’s writers) has banned all of the nation’s dogs to Trash Island after a strain of a canine disease infiltrates the city of Megasaki. His political rival Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) insists that their close to creating a serum, but it’s of no use and the first dog was a bodyguard of a distant orphaned nephew named Spots (Live Schreiber). Eventually, his owner Atari (Koyu Rankin) hijacks a plane and heads to Trash Island to find his dog, thinking it was the other dogs who killed him, but eventually Chief (Bryan Cranston) the main dog in a pack that’s formed on the island, decides to help him find Spots. This leads on an adventure where they have to fight off, first some robot dogs that are trained to kill, and on this elaborate adventure to an abandoned by a tribe of cannibals on an abandoned, quarantined part of the island that used to house a nuclear power plant.
At the same time this is going on, Professor Watanabe is poisoned by Kobayashi, and an American exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig) who’s more trusting in science than in the benevolent dictator, seeks out Watanabe’s assistant Yoko Ono (Yoko One, yeah, really.) and begins starting an underground paper to undermine the Mayor. Eventually all these elements come together and combine in strange and unique ways. There’s perhaps too many converging elements, I barely mentioned the several other dogs in the pack which is voice by an all-star cast of Wes Anderson regulars, or
I also can't help but notice, well, some of the more obvious commentary in the film. Of course, for something that's based n children's lit, why not? Why not have a movie about Japanese dogs being forcibly deported to an abandoned island simply because they're supposedly sick and carrying a virus? A dictatorial Emperor using scare tactics in order to convince the nation of dog lovers to suddenly turn and turn in their beloved pets, all because he hates them and wants them rid of in society. Why not? "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" started with King Friday 13th building a wall to keep people out of Make-Believe, sometimes they simple wrongs need to be shown simply, especially for kids. And this is a kids' movie; I don't care that it's PG-13 and it’s a little dark at times, like including some grotesque portrayals of death; it's PG-13 in the same way that "The Rats of NIMH" was PG in it's time. Actually, those two films have some similarities but the "The Rats of NIMH" was directly an adaptation of a children's lit classic as well.
Wes Anderson has a strange sense of humor, but I think most people dismiss it as a detached one, but with movies like this or “Moonrise Kingdom” among others, I feel like he’s more soulful than we realize. This is his second time with stop-motion animation after the wonderful “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, which itself is a Roald Dahl adaptation, and one of the better ones we’ve seen since the original “Willy Wonka…” film. There’s a childlike whimsy mixed with an adult sentiment in his work that when he’s at his best, it really explodes onto the screen. Many of the reviews I’ve seen of the film talk about how dark it is, or even about how he seems to run out of story because of the narrative’s limitations, but the darkness doesn’t bother me and I think he’s more purposeful than most realize. He knows the flaws in his writing, I think he’s often emphasizing them in order to replicate other similar works that he’s inspired by. Classic children’s lit is full of these aberrations and contrivances, and often-the-case they’re praised for them. I think that’s the same way with Anderson’s best works, he’s more interested in the exuberant whimsical deconstructionist narratives that many of these pieces of classic lit embrace and he puts that them into his films. A gentle wink and a nod for those who know what he’s really referencing and is inspired by.
Speaking of inspiration, there’s some criticism and discussion about the cultural appropriation he’s been accused since the film does have a lot of Japanese cinema references as well, including possibly some of the negative stereotypes and portrayals over the years. (Shrugs) I don’t know, I guess you can criticize this aspect negatively in several places, but honestly I like Michael Phillips point in his review comparing the film to Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado”. He might be borrowing from the language of Japanese cinema, but the style is uniquely his and filled with his inspirations as much as anything else. “The Mikado” is also full of politically subversive satire as well.
THE WIFE (2018) Director: Bjorn L. Runge
My initial thoughts on “The Wife” were originally of fear and dread. Not for any particular reason, mostly it had to do with the way the film was shot. Director Bjorn Runge didn’t do anything unusual or that I didn’t expect, he basically set the movie around Glenn Close, as in she was at the center of the frame most of the time, while everything else seemed to be happening around her. Her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature and even though she’s used to being the long-suffering wife who’s tagged along at parties, she’s more in the background and in the middle of everything than ever before and the movie showcases this. It’s what I was expecting, my initial thoughts into the film, as it followed Joan (Oscar-nominee Close) through all this chaos was, something along the lines of, "I hope this isn't too much "Mrs. Dalloway"-like. I had been harboring some ill will towards that book after trying to read it recently and realizing that there weren't any chapter breaks or any real break point to speak of. (Sidenote: I still think not doing chapters is the most insane thing about Virginia Woolf.)
Then the movie went into flashback sequences, that at first seemed so cliche and then I started wondering when do we get back to the more, centered-focus but ignored by everyone stuff again.
These were my initial thoughts. After a while however, I let those initials ideas go as I let the movie continue on and we got a much more different story about a long-suffering wife, one that I’m not entirely certain how to talk about without giving more information than I want. In fact, WARNING: I might make allusions to SPOILERS in this review; I’m trying not to, but I'm not sure I can help it.
I’m also not entirely certain when the movie takes place, based on the flashbacks, I think it’s supposed to take place hmm, sometime in the ‘90s. There’s a mention of knocking Bill Clinton off the front page of a magazine, but I think this movie could’ve probably been set at any point, although knowing the ages of the actors, I get the feeling that this script might’ve been around for awhile and only now did they finally get around to making it. It wouldn’t be the first time with Glenn Close, who last got an Oscar nomination before this with “Albert Nobbs”, another movie that she was about twenty years too old for the role, but she also had played that role on and off Broadway for about twenty years as well. "The Wife" is based on a popular Meg Wolitzer novel that was published about a decade and a half ago and took about half that time to finally make it to the big screen. Not a justification of her performance, she’s goddamn Glenn Close, it’s a great performance, and in fact, part of me wonders about these flashbacks sequences necessities, I might've just preferred it without those scenes and more of Glenn Close. Besides, we basically learn most of the information we need without them, much of it through a biographer character named Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) who’s hassles both Joe and Joan, as well as their son David (Max Irons) who’s also on the trip to Stockholm and is an inspiring writer as well.
The other reason I’m focusing on the structure and the time period is that the movie that most reminds me of “The Wife” was made around the early ‘90s as well, and that’s Kieslowski’s film “Blue”, part of the “Three Colors Trilogy”. That’s also a film about a wife of a famous artist, but that movie is also about her grieving her husband and kid’s sudden passing, and then finding out information about him that she previously didn’t have. In “The Wife”, Joan’s not out-of-the-loop on anything regarding her husband, in fact, she knows way too much and is still by his side, convinced that’s the best position for her to be in life, to be “The Wife” of the Great Man, at least that’s what it seems.
In hindsight, I think about those shots in the beginning more of watching Close’s face in the middle of everything, on a first viewing, we wonder just what she’s thinking, but on a second viewing, those scenes become even more elaborate. What other truths that she knows. We get some hints at the end, when she finally does implode a few times, but both time, literally life and death interrupts as her and husband's carefully crafted lives both crumble to the ground, and remain standing strong and she’s retreats back into that quiet wife who’s more protective of her husband and his position and legacy than ever.
Or at least, she is for now, but what story does she have brewing behind those eyes now, we wonder.
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (2018) Director: Josie Rourke
There are certain historical people who we keep making movies or TV shows about that personally, I suspect aren’t particularly good characters for film or TV. Their stories and influence might very well be important and need to be told, but I think the medium tends to fail them. Now, that’s not a belief that I hold to religiously and I have been surprised over time. The first name I would’ve thought for this sentiment years ago would’ve been Marie Antoinette, but then Sofia Coppola made her underrated masterpiece about her so I’ve had this theory blown to shit before. Another one that pops into my head is Henry VIII, actually a lot of the Royal Family within a good couple hundred years there come to mind. I know some people are fascinated by politics of the Court of that time, which was itself mostly fascinated with sex and it’s insistence on creating a male heir and throwing around religion as needed in order to go to war over, in some cases, literally some of the stupidest reasons people have ever gone to war over, but-eh, for me, I tend to find it frustrating even when done well. (Watching “The Tudors” was a goddamn chore to sit through.)
That’s why I was not necessarily looking forward to a new movie about “Mary Queen of Scots” (Saoirse Ronan). She’s one of those historical figures to me. I mean, is there a signature “Mary Queen of Scots” film out there that we all tend to agree on as the best? I know there's the one with Vanessa Redgrave that got her an Oscar nomination in the '70s, and I can't remember the last time that film's ever been brought up, there's the John Ford-directed one starring Katharine Hepburn but that movie's most notable for being one of the flops that labeled Hepburn as "Box Office Poison", there's a couple famous silent movie portrayals, hell, this is the second time there's been a "Mary Queen of Scots" film, this decade, but I'd have a hard time believing that any truly stick out to me as quintessential film or even as-eh, the singular important Mary Queen of Scots film and I suspect that’s because, she’s not the greatest character for a movie. “Mary Queen of Scots” seems to be trying at least. For those unfamiliar with the palace intrigue, after Henry VIII’s passing, the throne of England went to Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie), who’s also a character who’s struggled to be compelling on film, although, I tend to find her interesting in supporting roles. After all the crap he pulled trying to garner a male heir, Elizabeth I, eh, well, in this film they give her Lord Dudley (Joe Aldwyn) as a suitor; she- it's really debatable whether she had any real serious suitors, but close enough in this case, and never had kids. So, Mary, is a cousin of hers, although they're sometimes referred to each other as sisters, (They were actually first cousins-once removed, and I'm not going further into the lineage) but she was part Scottish, part-French as well, and actually married when she was a teenager in France, but her husband died young, and when she turned eighteen, return to rule over Scotland. We tend to think of the United Kingdom or Great Britain as one country, but historically it doesn’t really play out that way, and even today there’s tension. Scotland’s still trying to get away from England, and frankly after Brexit, I completely understand why, Northern Ireland is still fighting this Protestant vs. Catholics battle and apparently Wales has a giant hole in its sky where aliens and doctors and other otherworldly keep falling out of the sky and screwing everything up. (Okay, that’s not true about Wales; I actually have no idea about the history Wales in this regard.) The really important factor is that Mary is Catholic, while Elizabeth is Protestant, which of course, was a church created by her Father because he wanted to divorce one wife and marry another…-, ([Frustrated sigh] God, Henry VIII is so fucking annoying....) on top of that, with Elizabeth I not baring an heir, this essentially makes her second in line to the throne, with a huge claim to it herself since she is s Stuart, and in Scotland she’s fairly beloved.
So, Elizabeth first offers Mary Lord Dudley to marry, which Mary sees right through pretty easily as she insists on only marrying him if she’s named the direct heir, and only this request after it’s heard that Elizabeth is suffering from smallpox. She survives the smallpox but then Mary does marry Lord Barnley (Jack Lowden), who is English nobleman, but Elizabeth isn’t particularly thrilled with his father, so she rejects that marriage and the religion thing is played up, as she funds a Civil War in Scotland to overthrow Mary.
I know the broad strokes of the history here, but not the details, so I’m not entirely sure which ones are more accurate than others but they do insinuate pretty heavily something kinda interesting, in that while Mary is Catholic, she’s more open to allowing other religions to be practice, as well as a more liberal and progressive lifestyle being acceptable as well. At one point her husband sleeps with a dear friend of hers, Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who’s a guy that’s clearly accepted as a woman among her peer group of maids and friends. Elizabeth meanwhile is intent on treated the office of Queen, pretty masculine-like, but is not necessarily open to such frivolousness. I’m gonna wait ‘til the History Buffs guy does an episode to really be sure of the accuracy to history here, as oppose to accurate, but I could be wrong. “The Favourite” apparently was more accurate than I would’ve imagined originally, so…. (Shrugs) Still, these choices seem more screenwriting flourishes, and not necessarily bad ones. The film is written by Beau Willimon most known for being the creator of the American version of “House of Cards”, so he is relatively good at the mixing of personal and political intrigue. He also co-wrote “The Ides of March”, which dealt a bit with this as well. Still though, a lot of these parallels, they get tiresome pretty quickly to be honest.
Frankly, I think the reason the story of Mary Queen of Scots always sorta falters onscreen is because of how it does get bogged down in all the complex minutia. Like, a lot of this is brought on by the irony that the so-called “wise men” are now maneuvering for power at the whims of two women. There’s a lot of antagonism against Mary because she’s a woman and yet, they’re fighting essentially for Elizabeth in that case. There’s also the battle for heirs, the religious aspects, the different reactions to their religion and their tolerance thereof of others, the politics of sex and power in all mearnings of both those words, this is all before you head into the real palace intrigue of everybody screwing over everybody else all in a rail to screw their Queens.
You know, maybe this is just the American in me talking, but it really does amaze me, just how long most of the Western world went, before they finally decided to get rid of all the monarchies and re-embrace Democracy. I mean, England still keeps up the tradition, but this familial drama shit is bad enough, but then you remember that the whole of two nations were caught up and dying for these two women and all the men who were trying to snatch power from them. You know, I think that’s why “The Favourite”, to go back to that film, struck such a powerful cord for me, that entire movie’s basis is just to undermine just how insane and ridiculous this all was, and hear,-, well, I mean, it’s too important to take that approach to this story and turn it into a savage satire or parody, but when it is played seriously, it just undermines all the shortcomings of everybody. Those at the top on both sides to those on the bottom on both sides, and I think I’d rather hear this story from some other perspective, preferably from the kind of distance to the action that would lead to some “Blessed are the Cheesemakers”-level of mishearing details.
That said, there is good stuff here. The movie does place Mary Stuart in the history books fairly well. The acting is impressive all around. I think most people admired Margot Robbie’s work as Queen Elizabeth the most, but I thought Saoirse Ronan was born to play this role. This is actually a pretty stellar cast, and the makeup and costumes are strong; I didn’t even realize it was Guy Pearce playing Cecil the whole time. There’s other favorite actors here of mine, Adrian Lester is a curious but good choice for Lord Randolph, Brendan Coyle and David Tennant are strong. I also love the set design; it’s common to see great set design with an extravagant British monarchy court, but I love the scenes in the Scottish castle here. This feels like something that’s both royal but also feels like I would think of as Scotland at that that. Eh, I’m on the fence but I think I still have to pan the film overall, and I’m sticking to my original theory, “Mary Queen of Scots” is just not a good historical character when it comes to dramatizing her life on film. Her story needs to be told, but this is not the medium.
AT ETERNITY'S GATE (2018) Director: Julian Schnabel
Vincent Van Gogh (Oscar-nominee Willem Dafoe) has had an interesting and unusual history when it comes to adaptations of him on film. Most famously, he was played by Kirk Douglas in "Lust for Life", that one I haven’t seen, but I have seen Tim Roth’s portrayal of him in Robert Altman’s “Vincent and Theo”, one of Altman’s underrated classics. Still even more recently, one of the more experimental films about him, and that’s saying something considering those films was “Loving Vincent”, an animated feature that was entirely made by paintings done in his style and of his subjects that were created in order to take his paintings and create a piece of cinema of them. It’s one of the most amazing pieces of cinema done in several years. That said, I’m a little skeptical of people who keep trying to tell Van Gogh’s story. He’s one of those historical characters who story seems like it really should be cinematic, but I always wonder about it myself. Not that these films are bad, quite the contrary, they’re all pretty good, but similar to Mary Queen of Scots, I think it’s debatable whether or not a great film about Van Gogh has been made or for that matter is even possible. I actually find him considerably less romantic of a figure than others do; he’s often the prototype for the tortured artist narrative to many people, but usually when I think about his life and consider the works of art he created, I tend to find myself trying to consider Van Gogh very clinically.
Like, we know he wasn’t sane, he famously cut off his ear, he barely had one of his paintings sold in his lifetime, and that despite his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) being one of Paris’s biggest and most influential art merchants of the day, but I still mostly just ponder what exactly was wrong with him. Was he schizophrenic, was he bipolar, was he just too ahead of his time? Is it that he was crazy as to why were fascinated by his paintings today? Was Van Gogh a mad genius or just mad, or was he a genius because he was mad, or was he mad because he was a genius?
Julian Schnabel’s not the first name that would’ve crossed my mind for someone to do yet another dive into trying to capture Van Gogh, but that’s more a fault on my end, ‘cause he might be the closest we have to a rare natural fit for his work. Schnabel’s a bit erratic as a filmmaker; he’s more-than-capable of amazing work, most notably for me, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” but he is more of an artist than a filmmaker. Literally, he first became famous for tripping up much of the established art crowd with his modern art pieces; the most famous one of his that I’m aware of is his "Plate Paintings", where he broke several plates and then constructed or glued them together on canvas. It also helps that Schnabel is at his best as a filmmaker when he’s got a subject that requires more of a experimental artistic edge. He doesn’t try to tell a straight-away biopic, not necessarily anyway, although he certainly goes through some of the same territory,
Vincent and his relationship with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend), there’s also the part about his friendship with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), and of course the ear, and the time he was institutionalized, and eventually his passing, but they also touch on a debt he repaid to a Madame Ginoux (Emmanuelle Seigner), which was recently discovered 126 years after his death. It included a ledger that he sent back to her which had over 60 drawings of his inside it .Mostly though, it’s about the struggle to get inside his mind. I know, all Van Gogh films are about that, but I think this one might be the closest to it yet. It doesn’t speculate on what necessarily may or may not have possessed him, but the movie also dwells on hypothetical conversations and incidents that he may or may not have had. Sometimes it seems like Van Gogh can’t remember them if they did happen, or that they happened at all. There are some great sequences where Schnabel uses some fascinating dissolve cuts and overlapping Van Gogh’s dialogue and thoughts over himself and others he observed. There’s a lot of philosophizing here about art and life, especially with the scenes with Van Gogh and Gauguin. As somebody who writes, I can understand this notion of trying to create art through a mind that’s metaphorically fogged, but perhaps Van Gogh’s mind was fogged, and the painting was his way of trying to rid it of the demons that haunted him?
I like this interpretation of him, especially when considering his love of lighter sunny colors like yellow and blue much more often than some of the more traditional and typical darker colors that were common for most of the artists of the day. Despite my trepidations that I believe it’s always a little dangerous to try to go inside any artist mind who mind we know can’t entirely be trusted, Schnabel does come from experience as an artist himself, and you could read the movie as that struggle being real for all artists, especially the unique and masterful way Schnabel depicts it here. Perhaps he understand him more than others, or not, but it’s clearly someone understanding an artist’s process. When he does dwell on other, like a Priest character played by Mads Mikkelson or Mathieu Amalric as Dr. Gachet, one of Van Gogh’s more famous subjects, and several others, they feel like they’re coming from this perspective of trying to understand Van Gogh’s mind and thoughts as well. Trying to get inside the mind of an artist is a fascinating albeit a foolhardy endeavor, but so is being an artist.
The great tragedy of Van Gogh is that he never saw his success when he was alive, hardly the only one to suffer that fate of course, but “At Eternity’s Gate”, ponders that as well. Any artist believes that their work is supposed to or intended to live on beyond their years, they wouldn’t bother if they don’t. Still however, it’s not eternity like that. Painters paint for the same reason Priest’s prey, because it’s what they do. “At Eternity’s Gate” gives us an examination of that concept through one of art’s greatest examples of it, and I think succeeds because it doesn’t try to do much else to explain or dissect Van Gogh’s work. I don’t know if it’s a great film about Van Gogh, that filmmakers have been struggling to achieve for decades now, but if it’s the closest we ever get to it, I’ll be satisfied.
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET (2018) Directors: Phil Johnston and Rich Moore
Admittedly, I wasn’t particularly enthralled at the prospect of a sequel to “Wreck-It Ralph”. I liked that film, a lot; it made my Ten Best List the year it came out and I still think an argument can be made that it not winning Best Animated Feature is one of the biggest Oscars fuck-ups in the last decade or so. It’s damn near a masterpiece and it’s one of the few movies that’s directly inspired by video games that I actually like at all, partly because it was a movie that was inspired by video games, and not simply a video game plot trying to pretend to be a movie. And it felt and looked inspired, that movie took decades to make from conception to its final product and you can tell the time and energy that was put into it.
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” was almost assuredly never going to be able to keep up with that standard, but I like it anyway. It’s definitely got some interesting story decisions in it. I suspect, and I don’t have any direct proof of this, but I feel like this might’ve started life, not so much as a full-length sequel movie but as a quirky game in of itself. Actually, not a game, I bet this was intended as a theme park ride. One of those that comes with a visual screen with it and we follow the characters in an indoor roller coaster kinda thing. (I think that I’m supposed to appreciate theme park rides; I’ve never been much of a theme/amusement park guy, especially the rides; I went to Disneyland once as apart of my Senior classes trip in High School; I-eh, I don’t remember most of it. I got repelled up after the Indiana Jones ride and didn’t know that I was supposed to sit back down-; [I told you, I wasn't big into rides; it'd been well over a decade before and since then that I've been on roller coasters] everything else is a blur to me until I woke up in Barstow wearing a Mad Hatter hat on, but I think that’s how those kind of rides are appreciated? This feels like the way they’re described to me anyway.) Yeah, I think I’m gonna stick with this comparison, ‘cause I can totally see this as an amusement ride, that was just intended as an aberration. Take two of our favorite character from another property, along with anybody who buys a ticket, and send them on a quick adventure into a surreal universe that ends in about ten-to-fifteen minutes or so, but it got extended to an hour.
I’m sure they’re not the first people to come up with the concept of a visualized internet, but I usually like it when somebody does stuff that’s similar to that…- usually. (Oh, scroll up to that “Ready Player One” review folks, if you haven't, 'cause I had thoughts) Kudos to begin with for not going with a simpler obvious sequel route of having another evil video game character show up in the arcade and Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) have to save themselves and their games again. They could’ve done that and I probably would’ve been okay if they did. So, I guess, why not the internet, and see what happens to them.
Okay, um, I take notes while writing a lot of these reviews, sometimes, and-eh, I wrote most of that part above before this movie got particularly meta. Um, oh boy, so, I did see, the trailers that showed the scenes where Vanellope is in conversation with all of the Disney Princesses, but I thought that was just created for the trailer; I really didn’t think this movie would get so meta.
Boy, now I really think my amusement park ride analogy is actually really on the nose here, ‘cause this feels like a ride that’s through some backstage antics at a Disney park. I guess there was a pretty long period of time where the idea of Disney satirizing itself so much would be sacrilege, but I think it’s safe to presume that we’re well past that before we got to this, but-eh, wow, yikes,- like they-eh,- it’s like Ralph & Vanellope are guiding us through Disney the Ride, at Disneyland, on the internet. I’m debating whether this is genius, or just a little bit too much. I can totally see this as a twisted warped like subversive ride through Disneyland or something. I mean, it’s kinda like if a hotel-casino in Las Vegas included bits and pieces of all the other major hotels on the Strip, in one casino that’s also on the Strip, meta-, I’m actually enjoying this.
I mean, I do gotta admit that, one of my secret goals is that if I ever become a writer for “Jeopardy!”, I always wanted to pitch an “Obscure Disney Princess” category, and,- well, Vanellope, is one of them, and definitely not a Princess who fits neatly into the mold of the lineup. Although my personal favorite obscure Disney Princess is Princess Calla, which I’m certain will be the $2000 question, if I’m allowed to reference someone that obscure. (She’s from “The Adventures of the Gummi Bears”, and now you know how old I am.)
You know, there’s actually not too much story here that I think I need to talk about. The steering wheel on Vanellope’s game breaks so Ralph and Vanellope going into the internet to buy a steering wheel on Ebay, but unfortunately they don’t have the money to pay, and now have to make money on the internet. Good luck with that. This leads Ralph to trying to earn hearts on BuzzzTube with the help of Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) but meanwhile, Vanellope becomes enthralled with a new online racing game called “Slaughter Race”, and starts befriending a fellow racer, Shank (Gal Gadot). She had been getting a little tired of her Sugar Rush game becoming so predictable and she finds comfort in Shank and her familial group of strange outsiders who never really fit in anywhere else, as we recall her pass as a glitch in her game. It’s actually a pretty heartbreaking parallel with the first movie, Ralph being tired of being the bad guy in his classic game decided to jump to other games in order to earn respect from the others until he was finally able to be comfortable as the bad guy. Here, it’s not as emotional, but it still heartbreaking to see now Vanellope wanting to jump to a different world entirely and now Ralph is the one who wants things to remain the same, and it doesn’t take the easy way out of having things go back to normal in the end.
Now that I think about it, I don’t recall too many big brother/younger sister narratives in Disney films, or even that many stories of best friends who inevitably have to deal with drifting apart over the years. Off the top of my head, I guess “The Fox and the Hound” sorta fits that latter descriptions, but not too many others. Certainly none of the Princess movies had that much of this kind of narrative, maybe if I’m stretching “Pocahontas”? (Irene Bedard) kinda, but this is actually a really unique friendship and relationship narrative for Disney, much more than I think may’ve realized. I think that’s partially why the Princesses scenes ultimately work, and yes, they’re all here, and it’s a little disturbing how they managed to get way more of all the voice actors back here for this then I would’ve thought they be able to. (You know, I never really thought about it, but most Disney Princesses are fairly recent additions to the Disney filmography aren’t they? I mean, of the major ones in the line, except for Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the rest came in my lifetime. That’s weird. Huh, it’s always seemed so ingrained in Disney folklore, but really, it’s a much more of a recent trend, isn’t it?)
Well, I’m glad they explored these unique aspects to Ralph and Vanellope. The movie feels torn between ideas and direction a bit; you do get the sense that this probably started as a more light-hearted fun movie and things over time, kinda got more emotional and intense. It is a bit clumsy, but like, fair-warning, if you don’t love Disney meta-humor, this could get awkward, but I think “Wreck-It Ralph” deserves to be in the Canon of great Disney films and Ralph and Vanellope, the hall of great Disney characters, and I guess throwing in these some aspects and ideas and in some cases literally everything else associated with those movies and Disney is a nice touch to show it, and this film probably helps do that. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” isn’t great and sometimes the parts are hard to fit together here, but I liked everything I saw. I’m glad I watched and I’m more curious now about where these characters will go in the future, and where their friendship will go next.
I mean, I hate to be a realist, but I’m amazed Mr. Litwak’s (Ed O’Neil) little arcade has managed to survive this long….
OF FATHERS AND SONS (2018) Director: Talai derki
THE GUILTY (2018) Director: Gustav Moller
Gustav Moller’s “The Guilty” is one of those ideas that’s so ingenious, you’re legitimately amazed that nobody’s ever thought about it before now. It’s not the first movie to entirely take place, basically over the phone, Steven Knight’s “Locke” beat that out by a few years, and of course there’s the classic variant of this, the golden age classic, “Sorry, Wrong Number”, but a police dispatcher is a job where I suspect these kinds of regular dramas like these play out all the time. Other than that one episode of “Law & Order: SVU”, (If you’ve seen it, you know the one I’m talking about) and I guess there’s probably an old episode or two of “Real Stories of the Highway Patrol” or one of those shows that I seemed to remember taking place through a police dispatcher’s phone call, and I don’t even think I should count those, but other than that, I don’t recall this particular version of this conceit ever being done before. Not to this extent. The dispatcher who we follow the whole movie is Asger (Jakob Cedergen), who’s normally a beat cop but has been recently reassigned to dispatcher duty, although he seems to mostly enjoy it. He traces the calls and locations, tries to sort through what the phone callers are often trying to say without saying, ‘cause a lot of times the people calling are often trying doing something they shouldn’t be doing either.
The case that enthralls Asger involves a young mother named Iben (Jessica Dinnage), who he recognizes has clearly been taken against her will. She’s travelling but she can’t identify the car, or where exactly it’s going, or who’s taken her, not without her kidnapper realizing that she’s calling the police, which he finds out anyway. Eventually, Asger realizes that the woman has two kids who are home alone, and he calls them, to check in and to get any information he can. Her six-year-old Mathilde (Katinka Evars-Jahnsen), who’s scared and worried about her mother and her baby brother Oliver. From there, he manages to find out that it was her father Michael (Johan Olsen) that took the mother. He instructs another officer to break into his house and try to find info on where he might be going, trying to decipher where he might be from the occasional calls that Iben makes to him and tracing the cell tower info, all the while trying to keep everybody safe and alive, if that’s possible.
It’s not an entirely solo onscreen acting performance, dispatchers rarely work alone, especially for the police and despite the hour, there’s a few people working and a few are concerned about Asger for not only this call and his staying late to track it, but also because of his own issues that perhaps had tripped up his judgment. I imagine being a policeman makes it easy to both dismiss some of the troubled people you deal with, as well as impossible to get over others, and that dispatching is basically the same thing, perhaps easier since everything is over the phone and not in person for most, but more jarring and unforgettable for others.
Cedergren’s performance is critical, and quite strong. It’s appropriately stoic and intense. First-time feature filmmaker Gustav Moller’s directing is nuanced and claustrophobic. It’s quite a visual film for a movie that’s limiting in its scope. One location, barely more than a handful of onscreen actors, and some strong voice work and sound design. It reminds me of "12 Angry Men" in how a first time filmmaker uses limited space. I think I prefer other versions of this kind of claustrophobic narrative, some of the ones I mentioned before strike me as being more powerful, but “The Guilty” is still a helluva of an intense thriller, and a great movie to show young filmmaker how to be visually interesting and create a strong narrative feature with a limited budget and setting.
I AM NOT A WITCH (2018) Director: Rungano Nyoni
I know the intent of "I Am Not a Witch", but I'll be bluntly honest, the movie just sorta frustrated me. Weirded me out I guess you can say. I can't quite put my finger on it, the movie describe itself as a "Satirical Feminist Fairy Tale, set in present-day Zambia". Well, that's unique at least. I have no idea, although I suspect that the "satire" part is the major word to pay attention to here, 'cause I doubt Zambia is still like this, or if it ever resembled it.
The debut feature from Zambian-Welsh filmmaker Rungano Nyoni, the movie begin with a girl spilling water that she's carrying hom. A little eight-year-old girl, named Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is charged with witchcraft because of it, and some other accounts of her behavior, mostly in dreams. This ia a common accusation here, so much so that all the witches are brought together, and then a spool of rope is tied to their back, and they can't break the rope or go behind the length of the spool. If they break the rope, they're informed that they'll be turned into a goat. I'm not sure why this is an acceptable form of witchcraft, but the government officer Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri), a wonderful bubbling buffoon of a government official that Gilbert & Sullivan would be proud of, takes his job seriously. At least, he does when's he's not being informed of the local witches, he's generally relaxing his oversized body into a relaxing bath. The witches are also mostly for show, i guess. There's tourists who observe them. It's clear that there's a community that believes there are witches, and laws that accompany the process.
At one point, Shula is told to help solve a mystery by trying to determine which local villager stole money. Apparently it's a power that they're supposed to have. One of the older witches tell her about which one to accuse. It's hard to tell how many or who are in on the joke.
I guess I like the movie overall but what I'm wondering is, what exactly is it satirizing. It's clearly making light of something or someone, that's clear. Maybe it's just other parts of the world who suspect Africa is still so primitive and emboldened with ancient mysticism. The movie this reminds me of the most is "The Gods Must Be Crazy", a movie that I consider a bit of a guilty pleasure, but also seems to mostly making fun of our most cliche thoughts of Africa, or it's a movie that actually thinks that; I'm not certain. This movie is smarter than that, but I still feel out of the loop on it, and that just confused me. It's too unique to ignore and it's certainly cinematically memorable. There are some images here that I will never forget. I think it's a strong first feature from a creative and unique young mind, but I'm gonna hold out and wait a little bit for her to get really good in the future. I mean, if this is her first idea, I can't imagine what she comes up with when she comes up with when she's a much more accomplished filmmaker.
LEAN ON PETE (2018) Director: Andrew Haigh
CALL HER GANDA (2018) Director: PJ Raval
On the surface, the case of the murder of Jennifer Laude seems simple. Jennifer, a trans woman who was originally born Jeffrey, was killed by a U.S. Marine named Scott Pemberton after they shared a night out at a club. She was choked to death after he found out that she was trans; it’s a story that’s not particularly unique and one that’s been constantly repeated in one form or another several times over the years, especially in America. It’s an open-and-shut case frankly, or at least it should be, but if anybody follows LGBT news around the country, you’d know how often incidents like this don’t end up with justice.
However, this wasn’t in America. This happened in Ologanda City, in the The Philippines. The Philippines has a complicated history with the Western world. Without going into too much detail, the nation was technically under the reign of Spain until it was briefly a U.S. Colony that was won by America after the Spanish-American War. It’s usually written in the history books that we basically just gave them independence shortly thereafter, but there was more than that. There was conflict and rebellion that occurred, but there was inevitably an agreement that gave the nation it’s independence, with the caveat that United States military bases would permanently be stationed and able to peruse there. That tradeoff also included a weird and grotesque agreement, which states that no U.S. Military servicemen could be charged or convicted of any crime on Filipino soil.
No, seriously, that’s in the agreement, and has been and remained since 1898. Basically, the U.S. military is allowed to do anything they want to the country and their people and they wouldn’t be charged. In fact, the investigation, if there is any, is put into the hands of the U.S. Embassy, and yes, this is exactly as fucked up as it sounds. The Philippines, like many places where there’s been a prolonged U.S. military presence, has become a major sex tourism destination over the years. I’ll leave the history of the exploitation of the Filipino female body for someone else, but the trans population has also become engrossed it in, often as the only way for them to survive.
This wasn’t always the case with The Philippines which, unique to that area of the world, because of Spanish and American colonialization over the centuries has a distinctly Catholic presence as well. Before that, it used to be accepted that people of trans gender were usually regarded highly in society, often they were considered the spiritual leaders of the group, until they became ostraciszed from that role, being labeled as various forms of others. (Other countries in the Far East that weren’t poisoned by the Catholic well also have similar respects and traditions of the like, but The Philippines, like I mentioned, this archipelago has had a weird history.)
The movie follows the trial the best they can, the trial was relegated to a single year, giving preference to the date at which time Sgt. Pemberton’s discharged, according to the VFA, Visiting Forces Agreement, the one that set up this ridiculous rule. It also looks at her family, particularly her mother as she both grieves and fights for her daughter, the activist attorney who took on the case of prosecuting Pemberton, and through the perspective of Buzzfeed journalist Meredith Talusan, a trans woman herself who documented the public and private outcry over her death and through the trial and now the appeal process. He was convicted, the first visiting U.S. soldier ever to be convicted in a Filipino court. In that time, Deteurte became President of The Philippines, the Trump-like dictator behind over 7,000 civilian deaths due to his “death squads” who are going out to eradicate the drug trade in the country. The Philippines’s history is not ending, however, he is supporting the Laude family who the U.S. has repeated tried to buy out in order to convince them to drop the charges and release Pemberton to U.S. custody. The visiting troops has been limited and put on hold, costing the communities that served them ironically enough, sending much of the country’s port cities into an economic depression.
Still though, even those disgusted with Detuerte’s human rights abuses and other outlandish actions, a lot of people in the country support the idea of eradicating the VFA, and disallowing the U.S. and other countries soldier to make The Philippines even a semi-permanent stop for visiting military forces, and honestly I don’t blame them there. It’s an outdated practice and agreement that harkens back to colonial past and an imperialist present that the country never wanted to begin with and shouldn’t be forced to recognize either. Perhaps it’s for the best for both sides that the U.S. not have much of a presence in The Philippines at this time, at least until Deteurte is ousted if/when that ever happens, but for the time being the political and societal complications and implications and nuances of this case are still going to pepper the strained relationship we have with them and them with us.
And then there’s Jennifer Laude. There’s little home video footage and we don’t get to hear her words, although she did once proclaim that “My life has value.” She looks a confident, exotic and strong-willed young woman who could’ve done anything she set her mind to. She’s often regarded as the leader of the group of friends and sex workers she was with, and her passing is still sorely missed by them and her family. We don’t get enough of her than we probably should’ve, then she probably deserved. She did not die in vain though, and when I consider other LGBT victims, locally and around the world, it’s sad to think about how rare such a tragedy is.
“Call Her Ganda” is a powerful documentary that’s details and reveals all the microcosmic details of this one singular case and sorts through the several layers involved in it. It’s a powerful, excellent and much-needed documentary about a case that needs to be more ever-present in all of our minds. I can’t to the future of the LGBT community and how they’re treated or the people or governments of either nation or their futures, but I’ll say this, at some point, I do hope that VFA is torn to shreds and placed in the dustbin of history where it belongs. That said, I also think there’s room to make a new arrangement, one that doesn’t allow for visiting forces to simple slaughter a country of its resources, including its people, and get off scot-free because of what country they’re from. Of course, the irony of making such a hypothetical arrangement with a dictator who slaughters his countries people with death squads without repercussions, doesn’t escape me however.
MCQUEEN (2018) Director: Ian Bonhote; Co-Director: Peter Ettedgui
I’ve seen a few documentaries in recent years on some iconic fashion designers. None of them have stayed with me particularly long afterwards, even though I generally appreciate the films fine as well as appreciate the subjects they profile. That was basically my expectations going into “McQueen’ as well, this latest biodocumentary on an iconic designer, but it became clear pretty quickly that this was no ordinary legendary designer and that this was no ordinary biodoc about him.
I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of fastion, but from what I’ve curtailed over-the-years, the appropriate comparison that some might make to Alexander McQueen to someone n film would be, R.W. Fassbinder. It’s not a perfect comparison; they do share similar features, although Fassbinder is of course German while McQueen is British, purportedly by way of Scottish ancestory, but there’s some similarities in their backgrounds, both gay for instance, both came up very young and became prolific really quickly and pumped out work fairly regularly, but mostly I think the comparison is apt because of their form of passion for their art, as well as the ways they indulged in excess. McQueen seems to be the epitome of the excesses of the fashion industry meeting with the limits of the artistry of the medium back in the nineties. If you’ve ever seen Robert Altman’s underrated masterpiece, “Pret-a-Porter (aka Ready-to-Wear)” about the industry, you’ll suspect that many of the ideas for the clothes and the productions of the fashion shows they express were probably inspired by some of McQueen’s daring ideas and collections. Also, him and Fassbinder also used lots of drugs and through their work embraced both their most passionate and most viscerally embalming images in their work. They also both died incredibly young, arguably in the prime of their carers; in his case, it was suicide.
Alexander McQueen came from an abusive poor home on the rougher sides of England. If you didn’t know that his passion was designing clothes and ran into him, you’d think he was the kind of gangster bloke that you’d find in some Guy Ritchie film. Instead, he got some tailor apprenticeship, first locally, and then all throughout Europe before he started scraping together enough of a ragtag crew to put together some shows of his own. And I mean mean-rag, and I mean artistic and daring shows for the fashion industry. Another good comparison to him might be Andy Warhol, at least based on the way he practiced, but his inspirations came from dark places. It wasn’t until he took a job at Givanchy that he started to slowly slip out from the utmost avant-garde areas and begin to produce clothes that were, for lack of a better word, wearable. That’s not an insult or even a criticism; they were among other things, not clothes that were capable of being mass produced; he was putting on a shows, shows that challenge our preconceptions of fashion and art. Sometimes there were barely fabric used in many of the outfits; sometimes there were barely clothes or even covering at all. Sometimes there were robots.
All of his work is just some of the most expressive displays of emotion I’ve ever seen in art, much less fashion. The movie cuts between these striking scenes and images of his fashion shows as well as with interviews and footage of McQueen and several of his friends and closest family, the movie continues to return to this startling image of a-, I’m not even sure how to describe it, it’s like a golden skull that’s periodically filled with flowers or eagles or other birds or spilled with blood or designed with incredibly detail all over…- it was a go-to motif and image of his and by the end of the movie, it’s just an empty skull that ridden himself out, like his mind has given everything it could’ve possibly done to the world of fashion. I don’t know why this is so powerful, but it makes sense, all his images are powerful. He designed clothes like a director somebody said, and yeah, he did, but I think it’s even more powerful than that even. Like the idea of pigeon-hole him into a medium is simply not enough.
TEA WITH THE DAMES (2018) Director: Roger Michell
Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright and Dame Eileen Atkins. I know this is a most contrived of documentaries, but I don’t care that much, and I don’t think anybody else will. They drink more than tea and their tongues are sharply in cheek, as the four dames get together for this Roger Mitchell documentary, to just be ask questions and talk with each other about, well, the usual with these kinds of movies. Their lives, their histories, the films and plays and television shows they’ve all worked on, any other assorted memories that get brought up, either naturally or through obvious contrivances. It’s the kind of documentary where the camera crew and the P.A. and others are constantly moving around and are just as much foregrounds as anybody else. It’s about the equivalent of Letterman or Carson or whomever making direct references to the guy holding up the cue cards or some other scattered members of the crew. I’m not complaining or criticizing any of these aspects or dynamics, this isn’t a movie that gonna be dwelled down by criticism; it’s cinephile candy.
Well, I guess it’s a particular subsect of it, those who are fascinated with the members of the British pop culture who have titles such as these. I don’t know how big a deal it is now or not; I remember how huge it was to start calling them Sir Elton John or Sir Paul McCartney when those rock stars received their knighthoods. I think it was also unusual in that case because they were rock’n’roll musicians. At this point, it does feel like any British actress that’s been around forever will inevitably become a Dame. I can imagine the day when the internet freaks out in ten or twenty years when we have to start calling her Dame Gwyneth Paltrow.
HEARTS BEAT LOUD (2018) Director: Brett Haley
LAST FLAG FLYING (2017) Director: Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater should make any list of the greatest filmmakers of our time. This is something that I feel needs to be mentioned as often as possible regarding him, since he’s been an unusually easy director to overlook. He’s not known for big splash blockbusters, although he can do those if he wanted. His films rarely if ever get the awards consideration they should. He’s known as an experimenter, who will be the first to try things like animation. He’s fascinated by art of all kinds, and he fascinated with the minutia of life and the passing of time and how the two often interact and intersect with each other. There’s a poetry to most of his films that’s hard to quantify, unlike say Jim Jarmusch is directly inspired by his love and interest in poetry, Linklater seems to have a poetic view of the world that allows for him to see the fragility and quaintness of our emotional selves. It’s not simply that he seems to observe and records moments in time but how he does it. The appeal of his "Last Flag Flying" script, co-written by the novel's author, is very obvious to me. it's the story of three soldiers, two marines and one Navy Man, who were in Vietnam. It's thrity years later and they're reuining after one of their sons is killed in Iraq.
Three men, who caused havoc and raised hell in their days in one unjust war, now have to go and bury one of their own in another unjust war. Larry (Steve Carell) or "Doc" as his fellow soldiers know him, drives down from Portsmouth, New Hampshire where's he's remained since being sent to the Naval prison there in the '70s to go to Dover to pick up his son. For those who don't know this, back in '70s, the pictures and images of the Vietnam War were shown on TV every night, including the returning soldiers who arrive at the Dover Airstrip, but the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars did not have that, after a Bush proclamation to block out cameras and the press at the time. This was a big difference between these wars and promptly has a lot to do with why the Iraq and Afghanistan ones lasted as long as they did. Anyway, on the way, Larry finds Sal (Bryan Cranston) who's still very much a rugged excessive marine as ever; he somehow maintains and owns a bar, and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) someone who was just as excessive in his marine days, but has evolved and is now a popular local pastor.
On the way, we have a typical road trip, with several of the "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" travails, for instance, once they decide to take the casket themselves as oppose to have the military deliver it, they have to figure out how to get it to Portsmouth. They also now have a current Marine, Washington (J. Quinton Johnson) who's been ordered to follow the casket and make sure that he's buried in his uniform. Along the way, there's talk and discussion, about each other, about both wars, about each one's atrocities, their owns. It's really an acting clinic. Three of our best actors actors given great roles to play.
The film is emotional, poetic mosaic of where we were in 2003 and where we were thirty years earlier. Reflections on time and how circular the world can be. It's pure Linklater, pure adult Linklater. I totally get why he would adapt this and frankly it's a critical story. It's not the great or newest or most profound narrative, but that's the point. it's beauty lies in it's simplicity. Get three good actors, and have them confront and discuss things amongst each other. The only other movie that this reminds me of is "Still the Drums", a movie I doubt anybody's seen that's also about three soldier reuniting decades after their exploits in Vietnam. This is a much more high-budget and fun movie, but still sad and reflective in the appropriate ways. I prefer "Last Flag Flying", it's a beautiful, funny, emotional film about the real, personal effects of war. For a country, for a father and for the soldiers who fight. Same old story, told many times over of course. Now it's told with cell phones and still told well.
FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (2017) Director: Paul McGuigan
Well, it’s not the first time Charlize Theron’s played a lesbian killer…. Alright, got that joke out of the way. (Although seriously, those who haven’t seen “Monster” yet, should really go see “Monster”) I’ve heard some people call “Atomic Blonde” a female James Bond movie; I’ve heard a few other descriptors of it, mostly praise, although I’ll admit to being skeptical at first considering the film promoted itself on being from the same filmmaker behind “John Wick”. (Sigh) Oh, coincidentally, the big rebuttal I’ve gotten from my declaration about how the “John Wick” movies praise has eluded me, and that they’re just simply hitmen movies is that the action sequences are some of the top-notch ones Hollywood’s produced, and I had one good friend of mine compare the franchise positively to “The Raid” movies franchise. Well, I hated “The Raid” movies as well, although the “John Wick” movies do have more plot and story. See, that’s the thing, action in of itself, or for the sake of action, is generally boring to me and I don’t have much interest in it. I need more for a movie to be compelling, if it isn’t, then you’re basically just watching a video game and you’re not even playing it.
So, is “Atomic Blonde” that way as well? Eh, well, no, there’s definitely a more interesting story involved, there’s also style with the narrative approach, and frankly I found the action itself, far more interesting in this film, which,- yeah Charlize Theron puts herself through a lot, including one sequence that seem like one take that seems to go from the streets of Berlin to up and down a building and back to the streets, all the while, she’s fighting for her life and protecting an asset named Spyglass while simultaneously killing off several would be assassins. It’s a great buildup and reveal to why Lorraine (Theron) is so beat up and bruised all over at the beginning of this movie as the majority of the film is told in flashback.
Still, though I couldn’t help but notice some of the issues with the narrative. For a cold war narrative that takes place at the time of the falling of the Berlin Wall, I couldn’t help but feel the soundtrack was a little too obvious, cliche and noticeable, although I’ll take any excuse to hear Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry”. Or the fact that in a triage of British, American and Russian craftwork being done at all angles by everyone involved that the lone female French narrative was one of the most cliché characters out there, and yes, she’s often not wearing many clothes, and she uses sex as a weapon, not that she isn’t successful at it, but I think even Tarantino made fun of that cliché if I remember my “Pulp Fiction” correctly.
Plot-wise, and bare with me 'cause this is confusing, the movie takes place mostly in Germany, in and around the week or two before the Berlin Wall is supposed to come down. Lorraine is investigating the death of an MI-6 agent, while also seeking out Satchel, a major Russian double agent that's undermining MI-6 and might've been the man behind the agent's murder. There's also a list of double agents that a Stasi defector named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) is trying to trade in order to defect across the border. After that trying to explain and detail the twists and turns and reveals upon double-reveals is basically just impossible. The movie might as well be "The Big Sleep" in how circular and insipid the story becomes. It's the kind of movie where you almost wonder if spy agencies only exists so that other spies can constantly turn on other spies.
Of course, I think that’s part of the fun of the movie, although I couldn’t help but think about this as being a bit on the Conservative propaganda side too. For those who don’t know, Reagan had almost nothing to do with the Berlin wall falling down, and you look up the actual story of how that broke down quickly, it’s actually more absurd than people realize, although David Hasselhoff actually was in town at the time, so they got that right. It’s an interesting fictional narrative about the ending of the Cold War however.
I’m a bit torn on this one. I think the story had about, one, maybe two twists too many ultimately, but it did keep me interested, and that’s usually enough for me to appreciate a pop-action thriller, but there’s some missed opportunities here to really subvert the genre. I’m gonna recommend ‘cause it’s mostly well-done and despite the confusing plot that’s constantly double-backing upon itself, I wasn’t nearly as confused as I could’ve been, but “Atomic Blonde” does leave me a bit cold despite the coolness of it’s ice queen protagonist.
HOSTILES (2017) Director: Scott Cooper
“Hostiles” begins with a scene that feels like it was edited out of “The Searchers” for being too violent and portraying Native Americans in too negative a light. It’s startling and harrowing and frankly I’m a bit amazed that a sequence like this would be shown like this in these times. That said, I do know that while yeah, we pretty much screwed over the Native Americans and whatever vengeance we get from them we probably deserve, I do know that not all Native American were exactly peaceful tribesman either. I have no idea if the Comanche did stuff like that, but I wouldn’t be surprised one way or another of the accuracy of such events occurred. Apparently, the narrative to “Hostiles” is based on a real incident at the tail end of the days of the Wild West. The Indian Wars are a bit underreported in most history books, but at this time, it’s 1892, the West is starting to get settled and we’ve imprisoned several of their more leaders and other Native Americans. One of the leaders of the Cheyenne that’s imprisoned is Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) but he’s come down with cancer, and as the dying leader of a tribe, he’s requested and received him and his family’s released, to go up to Montana and return to his tribe from his prison at Fort Berringer, in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. Capt. Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) an aged veteran of the Indian wars himself, and has committed just as many brutal mistreatments of the Native Americans as Yellow Hawk has done against White Men, is the one hired to lead a team on the journey.
The journey becomes complicated, originally when they run into the newly-widowed Rosalie (Rosamund Pike). She’s still in shocked and is accesses the bodies of her dead family and burned house. Comanches. They’re in the area and they’re hostiles towards both White Men and the other tribes. That’s around the time when Yellow Hawk’s chains are taken off and him and his family start working with Blocker to defend. After that, the movie eventually becomes, one burial after another, sometimes a mass burial. There’s a lot of dead, for several different reasons. This movie matches up with “A Million Ways To Die In the West” in terms of body count. It’s not even just murder though, at one point, one of the soldiers, Sgt. Malloy (Ryan Bingham) just starts raping and attacking the women. They also pick up another prisoner, Wills (Ben Foster) who’s also a veteran of the bloodiest of Native American atrocities; like Joe, he was at Wounded Knee. He’s also killed a whole family with an axe without provocation.
I have several issues with the movie. The violence isn’t necessarily one of them, but I certainly think it was a bad idea to show that opening sequence of the Comanche. Mainly because the movie isn’t about fighting the Comanche or anything; they’re apart of the story, but it’s not necessary to show their destructiveness. The movie could’ve worked by showing this sequence as a flashback, or even just showing the results of their actions; those scenes are effective. Besides that, they’re just one obstacle of many. The best western narratives about these long, dangerous trips know this. Look at, either version of “True Grit” for instance, they’re episodic, “Hostiles” has the narrative for it, but it’s so bogged down it doesn’t read right. The one African-American soldier. Woodson (Jonathan Majors) doesn’t die, but he does get shot and has to leave the team. Him and Blocker has an emotional bedside chat, but all I kept thinking was, “Who the hell is this guy, and why do I care about their relationship?” There’s a French soldier, Desjardins (Timothee Chalamet) who asks why he was selected for this mission? We never get an answer, but I think he was just there to die at a certain point in the movie. He might as well have been wearing a red “Star Trek” uniform.
This is all nothing btw, compared to the real issue, the Native American family. I doubt they have more than 250 spoked, in Cheyenne or in English between all of them. Now the story didn’t have to be told from a Native American perspective; but it would’ve been a little nice to actually see scenes or sequences where we understand the connections that Blocker, Rosalie make with Yellow Hawk and the rest of his family. I mean, I’m always happy to see Adam Beach and Q’Orianka Kilcher get roles, those are two of the most horribly underused actors around, but how much did they do here? This movie feels old, like it should’ve been an old John Ford movie. How exactly does Blocker know so much Cheyenne come to think of it; probably the same unknown way that Ethan Edwards seemed to know Apache once upon a time.
The film was written and directed by Scott Cooper, the guy behind “Crazy Heart”, the film that earned Jeff Bridges his Oscar for playing a run-down drunk country-western singer. I liked that film a lot as well as his previous feature "Black Mass" and “Hostiles” seems to have the elements of a good movie; even if it’s plagued by the same feeling that it came way too late and from too disturbing a perspective that undermines Martin McDonaugh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. The acting is really strong, although Rosamund Pike just seems to be in a state of shock for half the movie, understandably so, but I can just see the acting instructions she’s given. But, I gotta pan this. The movie is long in length and has the elements of a classic sprawling western epic, but the pieces don’t go together well. The more I think about the movie, the more I suspect that there’s a lot of story that got left on the cutting room floor. Maybe the book it’s based on gives us more details, or maybe it’s too bogged in details that it doesn’t really get to a story proper well and Cooper not to so much, fill in the gaps, but to more-or-less allude instead of show or tell.
COLOSSAL (2017) Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Okay; I did not expect that.
So, I came into “Colossal”, fairly blind, I must confess. I really had little-to-no knowledge about the movie other than it apparently was important enough to make my Netflix queue. I tend to prefer it that way if possible, and-um,- this one threw me. I don’t know quite what I expected, but-eh, it wasn’t this. I’m not complaining either; I’m recommending this,- I guess it’s a comedy. It actually feels a little familiar to me in concept, like this feels like a short story I might’ve once read, but this was an original idea from the movie’s writer/director Nacho Vilalongo. Kudos, you caught me offguard on this one.
Colossal begins with a scene in Seoul, South Korea, where a Godzilla-like creature is spotted one day. Oh wait, this is Korea, not Japan, what’s the Korean Gojiro? Um, “The Host”? "Pulgasari? (Scratches the top of head, shrugs) I’m- I’m sure they have their own. However, the movie takes place in the New England area where an unemployed journalist, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has been kicked out of her boyfriend Tim's (Dan Stevens) apartment after way too many times being a drunken mess of a party girl. She makes her way to her old hometown and abandoned home where, between stumbling through her waking life and falling asleep on a nearby park bench, she meets up with an old elementary school friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). He owns his father’s old bar where she used to hang out at and she soon begins diving back into her drinking and partying ways with Oscar’s gang, including his friend Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and a younger patron named Joel (Austin Stowell) who Gloria eyes as the best person in the group to have a booty call with if it’s ever needed, and at the moment, it seems needed, although Oscar, seems the most helpful to her. He gives her a part-time waitressing job at the bar and a few pieces of furniture for her apartment. At the moment, she’s barely able to get an air mattress to work.
Meanwhile, suddenly in Seoul, that monster that showed up 25 years ago has suddenly made several reappearances. Always at the same time, and always this time he’s become destructive, although there’s little-to-no rhyme to his actions, how the monster showed up or what it’s objective is. While the world’s terrified, Gloria begins to slowly sober up and she suddenly realizes that her and the monster in Seoul may in some way be connected.
I won’t reveal more than that, although I will say that the idea is pretty clever. There is a reveal of a villain that I’m not particularly crazy about, but I understand it. Personally I couldn’t help but see Anne Hathaway as a drunk and not think about her wonderful performance in “Rachel Getting Married”, which I still think of as the movie that she should’ve won the Oscar for, but I do like this character of hers though. A strange and befuddled mess who’s way more capable than she lets on most of the time, but not exactly sure or able to fight out of her more out-of-control tendencies.
Personally, I think I was so befuddled by the film that I wasn’t letting myself really dive into the more comedic aspects of it. It is a comedy, it’s funny, but you gotta fall into a huge leap of faith before you realize what’s going on, and honestly it’s kinda hard to be funny when there’s a bunch of people on the other side of the planet getting uselessly killed everyday, no matter how strange the reason is. But I do get, and I do like that this is a comedy; if it was too drama serious, I feel like it might resemble an old “Twilight Zone” episode too much, so I think this was the right approach.
This is the first feature I've seen from director Nacho Vigalongo, a Spanish director known mostly for short film projects, and often working in science-fiction. I don't know much about his other work, but if they're as fun and inventive and "Colossal" then I'm definitely interested in looking deep into them.
“Colossal” is a fun little strange comedy, and a nice twist on the monster movie genre, that admittedly I’m more interested than I would’ve imagined awhile ago, since there’s lately been a few actual decent films in that genre lately. Add this one to that list along with “Shin Godzilla” and “Kong: Skull Island”. So, it’s a recommendation a recommendation; a fun and weird little comedy about a drunk girl who happens to be a bit of a monster.
Christ, what the hell am I watching? Ugh, you ever get the feeling that you’re watching somebody’s first script? Like, I know based on the people involved that this probably isn’t a first script, but boy does it feel that way at times; like they’re try to make a point and say something, and they’re trying to, say a lot while saying a little…. This is one of the those, “Boy, what the hell was the point of that?” movies that you expect to see at a film festival or two, only with much better actors who should really be finding something better to do.
So, Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is some kind of healer. She works at a Cancer center and she’s giving a massage to Kathy (Connie Britton) an upscale uber-wealthy woman who’s daughter was helped through her cancer by Beatriz, so they’ve become unlikely friends, but Beatriz is having a bad day. For one thing, her goat got killed earlier. Yes, she has goats. No, she doesn’t have a farm or anything, she has a lot of pets, and one of them is a goat and it was killed this morning. And now, her car won’t start, so Kathy invites her to stay the night and to have dinner with some business associates of her husband Grant (David Warshovsky). They’re celebrating pushing through legislation for a land deal that’s led by noted Real Estate developer Doug Strott (John Lithgow) who’s infamous for building hotels and shopping centers up and down the West Coast in both the U.S. and Mexico, he’s there with his latest wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker). There’s also a young up-and-coming developer Alex (Jay Duplass) and his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigney) who paired up on with Doug and Grant on the banking side of this deal. Obviously there’s material here for a culture clash comedy of sorts here, and I guess they get into philosophical discussions about and around it, but much of the movie just basically amounts to Beatriz and Doug, eyeing each other. She believes that she’s seen Doug somewhere before and that perhaps he was the developer who’s hotel helped obliterate and destroy her small Mexican tourist town that led her to come up to the U.S. to begin with. She’s definitely spiritual. They make it a point that she’s a vegetarian on top of everything else about her, and Doug is one of those pricks who goes off to Africa to shoot elephants and rhinos for fun. (Okay, granted he’s actually helping to save animals including endangered species by doing that ‘cause the money that he pays to hunt certain specific animals goes to protecting those endangered animals that he’s hunting, but still, I get her point in that, it’s stupid and obnoxious and why the hell do you want to kill an elephant anyway?) Basically, it boils down to a fairly simplistic narrative about how cultural, ethnic and class differences give differing points of view, and-eh, I don’t know, Salma’s class has the choice of either drowning or trying to kill those at the top?
I-eh,- I feel there’s supposed to be some kind of symbolic message with all these characters, and something in particular with Hayek’s. The movie does have a Latino director, so perhaps I’m missing something here, but I also feel like I’ve seen better stories about whatever the hell point they’re trying to make here. The story about the hotel taking over her town for instance, feels very reminiscence of several scenes in Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, but those stories feel powerful in that film. Granted, this is a dinner party movie and I shouldn’t be comparing it to those loftier terms, but this barely feels like a finished film. It’s barely 77 minutes not counting the credits and it feels stretched to get to that far. Are we supposed to automatically have so much empathy for Beatriz? Are we just supposed to automatically hate Doug? I’m not saying I do or I don’t, but the movie never gives us enough reason to really care one way or another about either of them. There’s a good movie somewhere in here, one that’s more depthful and really dives into the differences between these characters, or one that plays these differences for comedy, ‘Beatriz at Dinner” does neither. This isn’t even much of a tet-a-tet between these characters and their political philosophies and whatnot; I mean if that’s the goal, then just do it, go all “Swept Away…” on it, stick them on an island or something and make them go after each other, or something
“Beatriz at Dinner” just leaves me at a complete loss for whatever they were trying to do. Maybe I’m overthinking this, maybe this was just, “Let’s get a few famous friends together for a week or two at a nice location and shoot a quick little no-budget movie”, kind of movie. (Sigh) That would be the best explanation I can think of for why this film is the way it is, but I can still think of movies did that better too.>
THE HERO (2017) Director: Brett Haley
Oh boy, what happened here? So, “The Hero” Brett Haley’s follow up to the surprise indy hit, “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, doesn’t stray much from where that movie jumped up at. It stars Sam Elliott like that one did, and much of the movie feels like a melodic and elegiac look at old age and trying to figure out the next path in life when life is near it’s end, but not quite. I wasn’t particularly fond of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, but I was hoping this follow-up would possibly take the concept and extend it a bit. It does seem like dreams matters to Haley, the movie actually continues to go back and forth into the idea of dreams, often conflating it with movies, something that’s not uncommon. I often, like Lee (Elliott) the old-time western actor does in the film, seem to mistake dreams for movies. I’ve often found myself staying asleep as long as I can, while I experience what I perceive as a film, but in reality would be my dreams, especially since I’m all-too-aware that I can’t always grasp the movie or dream once I was up.
Then the movie, kinda falls into some clichés. Lee is an aged actor who’s mostly on his own these days. He occasionally gets a voiceover job selling barbecue but he’s a western hero archetype in a modern world. In fact, “The Hero” is not only the name of this movie, but the name of his most notable movie that he’s most identified with. Nowadays though, he spends his days getting high with an old actor buddy who’s more stoned out that he is, (Nick Offerman) in between sporadically accepting Lifetime Achievement awards. Then, he finds out that he’s dying of cancer. He’s debating whether or not to get a surgery that would, at best give him a couple extra years. He tries to sort things out with an estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter) while he also starts dating a young stand-up comic, Charlotte (Laura Prepon) as well as her mother and his ex-wife Val (Katharine Ross,- wait really? Katharine Ross, that Katharine Ross?! Holy Fuck, when’s the last time she’s been in a movie?!). Without giving too much away though, the movie drifts from this surreal meets the modern for awhile and seems to dive headlong into the hyperreal world of modern Hollywood, where the era of the viral video rules all. Honestly, I wish they didn’t because outside of some Edna St. Vincent Millay references that seem to exist in this movie to justify the tone and some loving nods to Sam Elliott’s own traditional archetype, this movie is basically just a very, very light re-imagining, narratively at least, of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”. I mean, I guess there’s some other influences, I can easily see this as a discarded Sofia Coppola film that Brett Haley picked up or something, but I could basically predict a lot of the developments ahead of time, especially once I picked up on “The Wrestler” parallels.
He does eventually return to that surreal world dream movie that seems exactly like the kind of movie I’d love to watch in a dream, and I wish he peppered the movie more with that kind of stuff. I think it would’ve distinguished it more than just simply a good Sam Elliott vehicle. I like enough of it to struggle with panning the film but Brett Haley still feels like he’s in that weird in-between spot for me, where he’s not quite melodic enough for his movies to be interesting as mood pieces or naval-gazing dwellings on aging, or for that matter are good enough to work as really compelling narrative. I’m waiting for him to pick one or the other and then to do it well, not have him split the difference and give me 50% of both.
THE NEWSPAPERMAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN BRADLEE (2017) Director: John Maggio
When I started writing a review of “The Newspaperman,” I stopped the movie on my DVD player and went into a long diatribe about some of my failures in running this blog, most notably how I had stopped seeking out presenting my work to other editors or more accomplished and named internet periodicals, and my loss of preparedness and study of others, and how that had led into some other disappointments, complications and laziness on my part in running this blog. Perhaps, I will use what I wrote in that flash of improvisation for some other writing down the road, the original point which I had gotten lost in was that if you asked me to name a newspaper editor, the first name that would come to my mind is Ben Bradlee, who passed away five years ago and hadn’t been the Editor of the Washington Post since 1991. It had pretty much been glued into us that the Post was the premiere newspaper when it came to investigative journalism, and now that journalism is once again under constant attack by a corrupt house of crook we laughingly call a Presidential administration, I suspect now is as good a time as ever for a comprehensive look back on Ben Bradlee. The HBO documentary does just that. Obviously the big thing that everybody knows is Watergate. The second big thing is probably the Pentagon Papers, both of the Post’s involvement in those historic incidents in American history have had Academy Award nominated films detailing them and Jason Robards, Jr. famously won an Academy Award for portraying Bradlee in “All the President’s Men”. That’s how I’ve always pictured Bradlee, the veteran editor who came from the old days of newspaper reporting, who was gruff and determined, insistent on finding and seeking out the story at all costs. We get a little more of the man here. For instance, the Harvard grad was apparently apart of a longerm sociological study that analyzed his life after Harvard. That was odd. He was also in the South Pacific in WWII as a member of the Navy, and spend his post-war years as a foreign correspondent in Paris.
He was an editor for Newsweek, the Post’s magazine subbranch before becoming the editor for the Post that I didn’t know although I probably should’ve. The movie is mostly what you expect, clips and stock photos from him and details of the stories he worked on and life he lived, with talking heads clips from those who you’d expect. The movie uses narration in Bradlee’s own words from the audio recording of his autobiography, that I appreciated, especially as somebody who’s really gotten into audiobooks lately, particularly biographies. The only fair stumbling block I would say they go into, and it’s a fair one outside of his previous marriages and affair is the Janet Cooke “Jimmy’s World” incident. Be weary of any journalistic article that sounds too much like a piece of fiction when read. The story might be real or fake of course, but news articles, in my experience should be as unentertaining as possible. Primarily fact-based and getting to the point of what they’re covering. Perhaps that’s another reason I’m not as drawn to journalism as I often wish I were, but even the greats can get caught up. It’s amazing it took as long as it did with Bradlee, who was infamously close to John and Jackie Kennedy, back when such friendships between the administration and Press were frowned upon.
"The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” is as much a look back at a past time and era as well as a look at his life. I don’t know what Bradlee made of the modern media landscape or these troubled times we live in, but it’s definitely a world that we don’t know how. “The Newspaperman” is an appropriate name for him, perhaps he was the last one. It was said that his death in many ways marked the end of the 20th Century. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a fine tribute to the man if it is and if that’s the case, then I think the 20th Century went out with a great man to go out on.
BURNING SANDS (2017) Director: Gerard McMurray
I will never understand fraternities. I certainly won’t understand any of the hazing rituals that are brought about from them. There was a powerful film a couple years ago called “Goat” that probably is the premiere movie that shows the sadistic and most evil view of these practices to the extreme, although I often fear that we’re still taming this shit down. Look joining a frat has positives I’m sure, but if you have to humiliate yourself just to be in it, it’s probably bad.
“Burning Sands” benefits by telling this story in a more personal, narrative manner as oppose to just showing a bunch of abuse for ninety minutes. It also adds a level of irony by having the movie take place at a traditional HBCU. Zurich (Trevor Jackson) or Z as he’s nicknamed, decides to go through the rituals after his father couldn’t. So, he’s getting forced to do push ups in the forest and get food thrown at him, and several other humilations. Of course there’s the obligatory paddle spankings as well, which is still the gayest thing ever about fraternities, or sororities for that matter.
He is getting conflicting opinions though. He’s got a couple girlfriends Angel (Serayah) and Rochon (Imani Hakim) who confront him, and a Professor (Alfre Woodard) although interestingly, the school’s Dean (Steve Harris) is a huge promoter and protector of the fraternity, although I doubt he knows exactly what goes on with the initations these days. Or perhaps he does and is diluted that somehow it’s a character building thing that’s worth the pain.
Honestly, despite everything, I’m not entirely sure what the movie’s trying to say or do. There’s some strong performances and inevitable disaster of the results of fraternity hazings, but I just found this movie a little too inevitable and frankly I think I prefer the graphic and unflinching nature of “Goat” in comparison. The movie does add a different subtext considering the African-American people and cast, but I also think about this subplot in “School Daze” and find that was probably just as convincing to me of the negative aspect of HBCU frats and that was thirty years ago and only one part of that movie that explore several aspects to campus life and the modern-day necessity and outdated of that particular brand of graduate institutions. This is director Gerard McMurray’s debut feature, and it’s an interesting little independent, but I think it’s got an idea of what to show but doesn’t really have a clear vision about what it wants to say about it. Interesting, but ultimately, I don’t think the film was necessary viewing.
HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2017) Director: Daniel Raim
Storyboarding is a skill that, for the best interests of both me and Hollywood, I practice and work at as little as humanly possible. One of the reasons I type so much is that I cannot draw. I can visualized, and if necessarily, I may occasionally make a crude scribble or two of a shot or two if no other conceivable option exists, but that’s about it. The thing is, storyboarding is essentially the first step in directing. In some ways, the first step in writing too. (And of course, it goes without saying that animation of all kinds is all storyboard) I’m equally amazed at the great storyboard artists and directors, the Hitchcocks, the Spielbergs, the Scorseses, who love to storyboard as much as they can, as well as some of those great directors who admit to not storyboarding their films, Ang Lee’s the most astonishing name I can think of for this, especially some of his action movies. (I’m not even that big on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, but how in the hell did he not storyboard for that? Or for “Life of Pi’ for that matter!?) This is to say that I am of both minds as to whether or not it is a necessary evil or an essential tool to help create movies. It is fair to say that storyboard artists of all kinds do not get the credit they deserve. I met a big storyboard artist once, Mark Andrews, who was a Head of Story for some of Pixar’s big projects, who would go on to win an Oscar as a co-director of “Brave”. He is ambitious, in his continuous climb up the Hollywood ladder, but mostly, he likes to draw he points out. I wish if nothing else, I had that sentiment towards drawing, even if I was untalented at it, and I surely would be, I believe that loving to draw alone would get me work more regularly than I do, and I encourage anybody who indeed loves to draw to immediately seek out work in Hollywood.
Research is more my lane. While it’s usually more the field of production designers and art directors, costume designers and propmakers, I can assure you that writing takes a lot of research. Not so much here, in my mostly opinion blog, although I do research more than people may realize, but if I’m writing a screenplay or a story, I often have to seek out incredibly detailed minutia just to get myself off the ground to begin telling some stories I’ve written. If I can’t do research on certain things at particular times, I often push those scripts aside for awhile until I can and work on something that’s far less extensive.
“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story”, a brisk and loving documentary, is about Harold and Lillian Michaelson, Hollywood’s most secret of prized secret weapons for decades. Harold was the best storyboard artist in town; Lillian owns the film research library that used to be at MGM studios but then bounced around from the American Film Institute, to old Hollywood General Studios where Amerrican Zoetrope Productions to the Paramount lot, for free, and then Dreamworks called and asked her to join that new company. They were even the inspiration for Fiona’s parents in “Shrek 2”. Together they’ve basically made Hollywood. Michaelson worked for DeMille, Hitchcock, Nichols, creating storyboards and visualizing shots and sequences often before the filmmakers who typically get the most credit ever conceive of their shots. He created the famous shot from “The Graduate”, among several others. He storyboarded “The Birds”, “Marnie”, “The Ten Commandments”, “Ben-Hur”, the list goes on and on actually....
He and Lillian moved to Hollywood shortly after he finished his stint in the Army during WWII, and decided to go into drawing afterwards. Lillian is a quiet but strong-willed orphan who left followed him out soon enough and they got married. Eventually while Harold’s career grew, Lillian worked as a volunteer for Leila Alexander at the MGM Research Library before taking it over after the office was cut and moved. She’s responsible not just for keeping up the library, but also for organizing and detailing it in such a way that the production designers, costume designers and the such who come in for research can seek out and find inspiration and ideas for their work, as well as find out what kind of underwear did young Jewish women wear in the 1890s, like she had to find for “Fiddler On the Roof”. “I put space and religion next to each other, because they’re both about looking up into the heavens”, she observes. As a writer, my instincts screams, “Yes!” That’s the kind of detail that we of detail that we often need. Having a tunnel-visioned look at something is fine for some things, but it’s usually those breaks in between, those stumbling into other ideas through the most oddest of circumstances and cross-connections that real inspiration and ideas can come.
She could also out the most obscure pieces of research as well. You know to see what the inside of the CIA looks like, she knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who had photos. You need to see what a cocaine manufacturing plant looks like, she knows the drug kingpin who can take her on the private jet down to South America to find out.
Harold inevitably got bumped up to Production Designer, originally for Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got Your Gun”, and he became prolific at that as well. He earned Oscar nominations for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Terms of Endearment” and also helped bring up a lot of other production designers and art directors in the business from that.
While the film history is fascinating to me, the movie is also a love letter to their love story. He would write poems and create holiday and birthday cards, and had many children, one of them autistic back in the time when they thought it was a Freudian psychological issue that the parents didn’t love their kids enough. (Deep sigh). Harold passed in ’07 and Lillian retired shortly after, and now resides in the Motion Picture Retirement Home. The movie has a recent interview that’s splice with old footage of them as well as who’s who of talking heads. Him with his pipe and drawings and her with the research and books; they were essentially the pseudo ma and pa for all of Hollywood at some point or another. “Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” is one of those great feel good stories about Hollywood that we honestly don’t have enough of, and for that alone I enjoyed it. Frankly, it makes me want to consider looking into being a film researcher like Lillian; I think I would enjoy and be good at that.